Continental Airlines is the first to report its March operational numbers, and they show a continuing slump that no doubt will be echoed as other major airlines report in in the next few days.
Passenger traffic, as measured by revenue passenger miles (one paying passenger flown one mile) dropped 9.7 percent (down 12.4 percent domestically and down 7.5 percent internationally) compared with March 2008. Reflecting the trouble the whole industry has had in not being able to reduce capacity fast enough to address the falloff in demand, Continental's available seat miles were off 6.4 percent -- down 11.4 percent domestically and down 2.3 percent internationally.
If you think the planes still seem full, you're right. Continental's domestic load factor was 84.3 percent, down a mere 0.9 points from last March. Load factors of over 80 percent mean most flights are taking off packed full. The international load factor was 75.8 percent, down 4.2 points.
Revenues are off sharply. In March, Continental's revenue per available seat mile fell 19.5 percent compared to March 2008, following an 11.5 percent drop in February.