Americans love to fly and it shows.

U.S. airlines carried a record 889 million passengers in 2018, a 20 percent increase from five years earlier, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics records that date to 2002. That wanderlust appeared in U.S. airlines’ robust second-quarter revenues and executives across the industry said they’re seeing continued strong consumer demand throughout the peak summer travel period.

What’s most intriguing about this ardor for air travel, however, isn’t full planes at the peak of summer travel season, but that the planes have remained full even as U.S. airlines add new flights, larger planes and more seats.

“It’s the persistence of this [demand] that’s been interesting,” said Jamie Baker, a JP Morgan analyst who has tracked airlines for 17 years. The boom poses a big question for the industry, especially amid trade wars and worries about whether a recession looms: “Is this just a flash in the pan?” Baker said.

The airlines’ traffic surge has outpaced the nation’s economic expansion over the same period. Current airline demand is roughly twice the rate of U.S. growth. Historically, that figure “has been closer to 1.5 times,” said Rajeev Lalwani, a Morgan Stanley aerospace analyst.

Airline stocks, however, have been a flop for investors. An index of five U.S. carriers is up 9% this year, compared with 17% for the S&P 500. Only Delta Air Lines Inc.’s 19% return is currently outperforming the index. The carriers have also underperformed the S&P index three of the past four years and merely matched its return in 2016.

The demand trends suggest the world’s largest aviation market remains a growth business, and possibly not a mature industrial sector yoked firmly to economic performance.

“Years ago, we used to model air travel based on the growth of the economy,” Delta Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said in a July interview. “That relationship broke several years ago. And I think the internet has played a big contributing part in that.”

Consumer demand drove Delta to a quarterly revenue record of $12.5 billion, with half of its top 10 record sales days occurring in the 30 days prior to its July 11 report, Delta executives said. The world’s largest airline, American Airlines Group Inc., said its $12 billion second-quarter sales was a record for the period.

“I think the fundamental demand for this product in this business is very, very strong and we’re capitalizing on it,” Bastian told analysts. Delta and United Airlines Holdings Inc. have both raised their profit forecasts for 2019.

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