The airline industry is one of those that seems to always be treading water. Whether it's unions, fuel costs, or other difficulties, many major airlines have trouble maintaining profitability. Unfortunately, as their challenges grow, consumers might be the ones who suffer. Joe Sharkey at the New York Times reports on some of the significant obstacles that lie ahead for the airlines:

Here are just a few factors to consider. According to the agency's forecast, the number of passengers boarding airlines based in the United States will nearly double by 2031, to about 1.3 billion, from an estimated 737.4 million this year. Already, the airplanes we're boarding are increasingly crowded. The industry is now averaging load factors (the term for the percentage of seats filled) well over 80 percent, and that figure is growing at an estimated rate, at least for the near term, of 2.1 percentage points a year.

In most industries, customer growth benefits consumers. But for airline passengers this probably means even fuller flights, fewer direct routes to smaller airports, and more big airport congestion.

Read the full story at the New York Times.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.