The Fat Years For U.S. Airlines Are Coming to an End | Bloomberg

America’s passenger carriers have discovered that it’s getting more expensive to run an airline these days.

While summertime profits were fine, and travel demand remains robust, a number of airlines are facing higher bills from a variety of factors: labor contracts, significant airport renovation projects, technology spending and fleet upgrades. The increase in expenses is creeeping into 2018 and threatens to spoil higher revenues just as executives are crowing about how they will keep fares up for the holidays.

Note the absence of the usual culprit in these matters—fuel. While it’s pricier today relative to 2016, jet fuel expenses still represent roughly the same burden for all carriers (though spot prices have gained 24 percent over the past year). That’s one reason investors typically exclude fuel from the industry’s standard spending measure, cost per available seat mile.

Higher costs hinder airlines’ ability to boost profits, even if fuel costs were to remain stable and passenger revenues rebound from higher ticket prices. Investors knocked 12 percent off of United Continental Holdings shares on Oct. 19, in part because executives declined to offer any insight about the company’s cost or growth outlook for next year.

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The Fat Years For U.S. Airlines Are Coming to an End.