Pack your bags, airlines are adding more summer routes

With more people than ever expected to take a flight in the U.S. this spring, airlines are already gearing up for what they expect to be a busier summer travel season.

They're doing so by adding new routes and planning to send more planes along existing ones.

United Airlines, for example, is adding flights to 13 cities from its domestic hubs. Included in that expansion are new destinations like Columbia, Missouri, and Rochester, Minnesota.

Not to be outdone by its competitor, American Airlines is adding flights from its hubs to 26 cities. They include smaller destinations like Appleton, Wisconsin.

"The greatest strength of our network is our ability to connect small cities with large ones through service to or through our hubs," American's President Robert Isom said.

People in the main terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport.
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People in the main terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport.

United and American are not alone. Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines are also beefing up the number of flights they offer as summer travel heats up.

The combination of a strong economy and near-record consumer confidence is convincing many Americans this is the time to get away. Meanwhile, airfares are still relatively low.

For airlines, the opportunity to serve more customers creates a tricky balancing act. One on hand, the expansion of service will increase revenue. Yet at the same time, adding too many seats or planes means more pressure on airfares.

Over the last two years, many carriers have been unable to grow passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM) because they've added so much capacity.

Some relief is in sight. The average domestic roundtrip ticket is expected to climb to $269 in June, according to the website Hopper.com. In January, the average domestic airfare in the U.S. was $222, the fare-tracking website said.