Get ready for busy travel season; airlines could set record

DALLAS — If you’re planning a big vacation trip this summer, move over. You’re going to have lots of company.

By air or car, traveler numbers are expected to rise over last year thanks to a decent economy and stable gasoline prices.

U.S. airlines expect to carry 234 million passengers from June 1 through Aug. 31, up from the summer record of 225 million a year ago, according to the trade group Airlines for America.

While fares are edging up overall, they are still relatively affordable by historical standards. And travelers can find deals, especially on routes flown by discount airlines such as Spirit.

Some of the lowest fares on popular routes are coming from United Airlines, which is trying to regain passengers lost to rivals in recent years and to overcome the image, replayed over and over on the news, of a passenger being brutally dragged off a United Express plane.

“I call them the mea culpa fares,” says George Hobica, founder of

For example, he said, United recently offered $79 roundtrip tickets for Chicago-Los Angeles and $93 for Fort Lauderdale, Florida-Las Vegas.

It helps that Spirit Airlines and Southwest, the original low-fare airline, fly both those routes. Neither flies between San Francisco and Atlanta, which explains why Chris McGinnis, founder of the TravelSkills website, recently paid $520 for a ticket.

“That was an indication to me that the airlines are feeling pretty good about demand,” he says.