Average U.S. air fares fall to lowest price after COVID-19 pandemic

FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines passenger jet lands at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, U.S. December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Average U.S. airfare prices in the three months ending in September fell to the lowest inflation-adjusted price since the government began tracking the issue in 1995, the Transportation Department said Tuesday.

The average ticket price was $245, down 30% over the same period in 2019 and down 7% over the second quarter, when average prices were $262 a ticket.

Prices have declined as air demand has fallen sharply, especially for business travel. U.S. airlines reported 27 million passengers in the third quarter, down from 86 million passengers a year earlier.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing major airlines, says tickets sold by travel agents for corporate travel remain down 88% as of this month. Business travelers often book close to departure and pay more for tickets than do vacationers.

The airline group said the decline in business travel has “pummeled airline revenues,” which were down 74% in the third quarter. To fill some empty seats, airlines have slashed prices for many leisure fares.

Airlines have also waived fees to change tickets on most tickets since the pandemic began but are still collecting fees for baggage, seat assignments and other amenities.

The Transportation Department report said 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, down from 88.5% in 1990.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Alistair Bell