Friday, May 15, 2009

Summer Air-Travel Demand Down; Expect Full Planes and Delays. Huh?

Fewer people will be flying this summer, despite those frantic fare sales all winter and spring. Planes will be more crowded. Expect delays to start growing again after a lull all year.

Say what?

In its summer travel forecast, the Air Transport Association said today that 14 million fewer passengers will board U.S. airlines this summer. The total drop (domestic and international) will be between 6 and 7 percent, the airline trade group said.

Passenger traffic has been down far more than 7 percent so far this year, so a summer drop of a mere 7 percent actually reflects an improvement generated by all of those fare sales, it seems to me. (The summer period as defined by the airline trade group in its year-to-year comparison is June 1 through August 31.}

Approximately 195 million passengers are expected to fly this summer on U.S. airlines, down from 209 million during the summer months of 2008. The ATA projects that 7 percent fewer passengers (171 million versus 183 million) will travel domestically, and 6 percent fewer passengers (24 million versus 26 million) will travel internationally.

Airline data for the first quarter show that load factors -- the percentage of seats filled with customers -- are well into the 80 percent levels, meaning most domestic flights are taking off full. That's because airlines evidently have had some success in reducing capacity -- by dropping flights and removing planes from their fleets -- in response to the decline in demand.

The ATA president, James C. May, said the poor economy is the main reason for the decline.

"The weak economy has forced additional aircraft out of the marketplace, so despite fewer travelers, planes will remain near full," May said. He used the occasion to take a well-aimed shot (again) at our sagging, lagging air-traffic control system. "We remain concerned that delays may be inevitable due to the combination of an aging air traffic control system and convective weather period," he said. [My comment: "Convective weather" meaning the summer thunderstorms, etc., that the airlines like to blame for everything that goes wrong.}


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