Airfares drop as fuel costs fall

by Hugo Martin
Los Angeles Times

Good news for airlines passengers: Carriers are finally passing on some of the savings from dramatically lower fuel prices toward fare reduction. And the low fares may continue until the end of the year.

The average domestic airfare for September was 18 percent lower than during the same time last year, and 9 percent lower than in August, according to a study by the travel site based on tickets sold in those months.

For the next three months, average fares prices are projected to be 17 percent cheaper than in the same period in 2014, the study projects. The most likely reason for the price drop is that fuel prices have sunk 47 percent since last year, enabling airlines to cut fares and still make a comfortable profit margin, the study said.

“Historically, oil prices have contributed relatively little changes in airfare, but over the past year its influence has grown,” the study said.

Some critics have demanded that airlines drop fares by the same rate that fuel costs had declined.

But Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for the trade group Airlines for America, said the savings on lower fuel costs are going toward other areas of the industry that have been neglected over the last few years.

“Airlines continue to invest in new products and planes, pay down debt, reward employees and investors,” he said.

The airline trend of packing as many passengers per plane as possible may reach a new height.

The European aircraft manufacturer Airbus Group has applied for a patent on a seat configuration that adds a row of passengers on top of passengers in seats on the floor of the cabin, similar to bunk beds.

The patent proposes “an elevated deck structure on a main deck floor in the passenger cabin of a wide-body aircraft for providing a mezzanine seating area in a substantially under-used upper lobe of the aircraft fuselage,” according to a filing with the European Patent Office late last month.

The “under-used upper lobe” area is also known as the space above your head in an airplane cabin. Passengers would climb to the upper seats with steps installed between the ground-floor seats.

The seating arrangement would allow both levels of seats to recline. But the patent application does not discuss where to cram all of the carry-on luggage or whether passengers on the top level will still get served boiling hot drinks, especially when turbulence hits. The patent specifies that the design is for larger, wide-body jets.

It’s not the first time Airbus has looked at ways to pack in more passengers. The company submitted a patent last year for a new passenger seat that resembles a bicycle seat with a small backrest but no tray table, no headrest and very little legroom.

Don’t panic, says Airbus. Just because the company applied for a patent does mean it will build the idea.

“Airbus Group and its divisions apply for hundreds of patents every year in order to protect intellectual property,” the company said. “The vast majority of items and processes patented never become fully realized technology or products.”

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