Airfares tumbled at DC-area airports

A traveler wears a face mask as he sits in a waiting area at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Viriginia. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

U.S. air travel was significantly curtailed in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, and airfares fell sharply as well.

The Department of Transportation has released third quarter data on domestic airfares, and by one measure they fell to a historic low.

The drop was significant at the D.C. region’s three airports.

The average round-trip domestic airfare in the third quarter of 2020 at BWI Marshall Airport was $220.47. That’s down 31% from the same quarter a year earlier.

At Reagan National Airport, the average domestic round-trip fare in the third quarter was $255.74, down 29%.

Domestic fares at Dulles International Airport in the third quarter averaged $302.17, down 38% from the same quarter a year ago.

Nationwide, the average domestic round-trip fare was $349, down 29.9%.

When adjusted for inflation, the average quarterly airfare of $245 was the lowest-inflation-adjusted fare in Bureau of Transportation Statistics records dating back to 1995.

The previous inflation-adjusted low was $262 in the second quarter of 2020.

Passenger demand was severely depressed in 2020. U.S. airlines reported 27 million originating passengers in the third quarter of last year, down from 86 million passengers a year earlier.

Airlines continue to lean heavily into additional fees.

U.S passenger airlines collected 65.1% of total operating revenue of $38.6 billion from passenger fares during the first nine months of 2020. That’s down from 88.5% in 1990.

BTS has average quarterly airfares for the largest 100 airports in the U.S. posted online, dating back to 1995, with both current dollar and inflation-adjusted comparisons.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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