Monday, January 05, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Air-Traffic System

The numbers keep adding up, or down. Air travel is off sharply, and the airlines continue to shrink their capacity.

American Airlines reported its December operating results today, and its competitors will be showing similar trends.

At American, revenue passenger miles (a basic measure of traffic) were down 9.6 percent domestically and, in a trend that really has U.S. airlines worried because they staked so much on foreign capacity expansion, down 5.7 percent internationally. The comparisons are to Dec. 2007.

American's domestic seat capacity also is off sharply, down 11.8 percent domestically in December -- and down 3.2 percent internationally.

American Eagle, meanwhile. flew 13 percent fewer passenger miles in November, with 13.5 percent fewer seats.

United Airlines also reported its December numbers today. Domestic passenger miles were down 9.5 percent (and 12 percent internationally). There were 13.8 percent fewer domestic seats on United in December, and 9.6 percent fewer on its international routes.

Continental Airlines had similar results, with domestic revenue miles down 9.3 percent (and down 4.9 percent internationally) and seat capacity down 12.1 percent domestically and down 5.6 percent internationally.

Watch the other airline December numbers as they come in tomorrow. The future shape (short-term at least) of our air-travel system is coming into clear focus.

Increasingly, it is going to be less convenient to get from here to there, by any measure. The big question is can airlines maintain current fare levels if passenger demand continues to drop as it has been in these last two tumultuous months?


1 comment:

Sean Harding said...

It's a vicious cycle. The more the airlines do to cut costs, the less pleasant air travel is. The less pleasant air travel is, the more likely people are to use other modes of transportation (or just stay home). The more people who use other modes of transportation, the less money the airlines make. The less money the airlines make, the more cuts they have to do. I fly more than the average person, but I know that I'd fly more if it wasn't such an ordeal (and the TSA is to blame for only a tiny fraction of the problems -- the airlines have caused the rest). At some point, this has to stop.