Airline Ticket Sales Surpass Pre-Pandemic Levels for First Time

As more nonstop routes return, including nearly 20 at PIT, bookings take off

By Bob Kerlik

Published March 21, 2022

Read Time: 3 mins


As the busy spring break travel season ramps up, the aviation industry is continuing to see signs of robust growth in 2022.

On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration screened 2,366,751 travelers nationwide—the single highest one-day total since the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago, and 93 percent of the total who flew on the same date in 2019.

But perhaps even more importantly, airline ticket sales nationwide exceeded a 2019 milestone for the first time since the pandemic began, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index. The index measures consumer transactions from six of the top 10 U.S. airlines and over 150 billion web visits, reporting on online spend, booking growth, pricing trends and top destinations domestically.

“The Adobe Digital Economy Index has been monitoring the airline recovery on a weekly basis, and in the second week of February 2022, we saw domestic bookings and revenue surpass 2019 levels for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst, Adobe Digital Insights. “This is a major turning point, and it shows a level of consumer confidence we’ve not seen in many months.”

Domestic flight bookings in February 2022 drove $6.6 billion in online spend, 6 percent above February 2019 levels and 18 percent higher than January 2022. It is well above what consumers spent over the holidays (November 2021, $5.5 billion; December 2021, $3.2 billion) when concerns over Omicron slowed demand, according to the index report.

That news coincides with airline optimism, The New York Times reported, despite rising fuel prices. At a recent investor conference, executives of American Airlines and Delta Air Lines said they saw record daily sales earlier this month.

During investor updates, Delta said it expected revenue for the quarter to slightly exceed its previous estimates. United Airlines said business travel was improving faster than expected, reaching the highest level since the pandemic began, while American said improvement in revenue would more than offset the recent spike in fuel prices.

Southwest Airlines also improved its forecast, saying it expects operating revenue in the first quarter to be down 8 to 10 percent from the same time last year. The airline previously said that revenue would be off 10 to 15 percent, the Times reported.

Pittsburgh picture also brighter

Passenger traffic at Pittsburgh International Airport is also continuing to rise. Recently released data from February showed nearly 494,000 travelers passed through the terminal, a 116 percent increase over February 2021.

Those figures represent approximately 78 percent of 2019 passenger levels. Year-to-date, 2022 passenger traffic is up 112 percent over last year.

That news has translated into nearly 20 popular nonstop routes restarting in the coming months at PIT, including London, San Francisco, Cancun, Miami, Myrtle Beach, Key West and Jacksonville as spring break beckons. The Pittsburgh-San Francisco route is used heavily by employees of tech companies, a surging business sector in the region.

Experts are predicting a busy spring break travel season as pent-up demand from travelers flush with savings is expected to surge. Mix in more nonstop options and the result could be passenger traffic approaching pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.

Bijan Vasigh, an aviation consultant and professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, predicts spring break air travel nationwide could approach 80 to 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels this year, coupled with returning flights this summer that double as leisure and business destinations, such as San Francisco, Austin and London.

“People have not traveled as much since the pandemic began,” he said. “They are upset, they have cash now and they will try to travel this year.”

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