Falling fares helped boost global airline demand ahead of the US and UK laptop cabin ban on certain routes.
Demand grew by 6.8% in the three months to the end of March over the same period last year, new Iata figures show as the head of the association defended the industry’s overbooking policies in the wake of the United Airlines passenger dragging incident.
The overall load factor climbed by half a percentage point to 80.4% – a record for the month – as capacity increased by 6.1%.
The imposition of the ban on large electronics in the cabin on certain routes to the US and UK occurred too late in March to have an effect on traffic figures, according to the association.
Director general and chief executive, Alexandre de Juniac, said: “Strong traffic demand continued throughout the first quarter, supported by a combination of lower fares and a broad-based upturn in global economic conditions.
“The price of air travel has fallen by around 10% in real terms over the past year and that has contributed to record load factors.
“We will have to wait another month to see the impact of the laptop ban on demand.”
He criticised the laptop ban for being imposed “with next to no notice, no dialogue and no co-ordination” and claimed the ruling was “testing public confidence in how governments and industry work together to keep flying secure”.
De Juniac said: “So, even as rumours persist that the ban will be expanded to other airports and regions, we are calling on governments to work with the industry to find alternatives – to keep flying secure without such great inconvenience to our passengers.
Concurrently, the recent incident of a passenger being forcibly dragged off an overbooked United Airlines has created calls for more heavy-handed government oversight.
“Everyone, including United, agrees there is no justification for what happened to passenger Dr David Dao. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz has apologised repeatedly and is taking steps to ensure there is never a repeat,” said de Juniac.
“The video was so shocking that it would be easy for lawmakers and regulators to get caught up in this groundswell of outrage and take steps to limit overselling of flights.
“However, the management of overbooking has actually worked well for decades. It ensures that scarce capacity is efficiently utilised; we see that in today’s record load factors.
“Overbooking helps airlines avoid empty seats, and that helps to keep costs – and fares – low.
“Governments have acknowledged that this ultimately benefits consumers. And if industry-level change is discussed, let’s make sure that there is a transparent fact-based dialogue between industry and regulators.
“We must be careful to not risk undoing the many benefits unleashed by the competitive forces of deregulation.”
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