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National

Improving U.S. Economy Boosts Spring Air Travel

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Get ready for longer airport lines. Airlines are forecasting a big increase in air travel this spring. Profits are up as well. But as NPR's David Schaper reports, do not expect airfares to drop anytime soon.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: This is a good time to be an airline, as the number of people wanting to fly somewhere for work or play continues to rise. John Heimlich is chief economist for the industry group Airlines for America.

JOHN HEIMLICH: An expanding U.S. economy, more jobs and rising consumer sentiment are driving increased demand for air travel, with us projecting a 2 percent increase in volumes over the March and April period to its highest level in seven years.

SCHAPER: Air travel hasn't been this brisk since peaking in 2007, says Heimlich. And demand is so strong, airlines are hiring more workers and adding seats after years of reducing both.

HEIMLICH: Jobs are up. Seats are up. And every carrier - every U.S. carrier - is growing in 2015.

SCHAPER: Sharply lower fuel prices and more revenue from fees for checked bags, legroom and other extras mean higher airline profits, which Heimlich says the airlines are using to pay down debt and invest in new routes, new planes and better facilities. But not everything is peachy in air travel.

ROGER DOW: We've got a mounting problem in United States. And it's delays. It's congestion.

SCHAPER: Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association is pushing for a $4 increase in the passenger facility charge to add runways and expand cramped airports. The airlines say they're all for improving infrastructure, just not with a higher tax. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.