Friday, December 18, 2009

There Was No Thanksgiving Travel 'Crush,' and There Won't Be One For Christmas

Attention credulous air-travel reporters who churn out the same formula stories on holiday travel, year after year after year.

As I pointed out before and after Thanksgiving, there was no travel crush in the air, despite all that media knee-jerking. During the Thanksgiving travel period, planes were full. Just as they were in the spring, summer and into the fall. That's because airlines are busy reducing seats flown -- off about 6 percent in November over the previous November. During the Thanksgiving period, travel delays were below average.

Want the actual numbers for November?

The Air Transport Association says today that 1 percent fewer passengers boarded domestic airlines in November compared with November of 2008, even though fares (which the ATA measures as the average price to fly one mile) dropped 6.4 percent.

Fewer passengers despite lower fares. There's your Thanksgiving travel "crunch?"

The worst news for domestic airlines is the steady drop in overall passenger revenue -- despite the sharp rise in revenues from things like checked bags and cancellation fees. The ATA estimates that average revenue was off 7 percent in November -- the 13th consecutive month in which revenue has dropped compared with the year-earlier month. The biggest declines in revenue on domestic carriers were on their trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes (and the collapse in demand for, or sharp fare reductions for, international premium-class seats business-class has a lot to do with that).

Still, there is nothing more stubborn than a canard. I'm already seeing travel stories warning about the Christmas crunch. Planes will be full! Plan ahead! Emergency, emergency!

Yeah, yeah. You could look it up. Planes have been full for well over a year, month in and month out. And fewer and fewer people are getting on them.


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