Airlines Expect Crowded Skies With Fewer Holiday Seats

The Air Transport Association of America (ATA) is forecasting a 9 percent year-over-year decrease in the number of passengers who will travel globally on U.S. airlines during the 21-day winter holiday travel season (spanning Thurs., Dec. 18, 2008, through Wed., Jan. 7, 2009). The number of available seats has declined 9 percent from the same period a year ago, resulting in full or near-full flights throughout the holiday, the ATA said. As many as 43 million passengers are expected during the holiday period, ATA says.

“While planes will be at or near capacity over the winter holiday travel period, the U.S. airline industry will see a decline in the total number of passengers this travel season,” said ATA President and CEO James C. May. “The decline is driven primarily by an extremely fragile economy and falling global demand for travel.”

May added that U.S. airlines will carry approximately 2 million passengers per day over the 21-day period, with the busiest days expected to be Friday, Dec. 19 and Saturday, Dec. 27. On these days, ATA estimates that planes will average 90 percent full.

ATA Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich observed, “All signs suggest that the schedule cuts prompted by high fuel prices in 2008 will deepen in 2009, primarily due to the rapidly deteriorating economic environment and the volatility of the industry’s cost of operations.”

ATA said that once again it is calling for full cooperation with the federal government and airports to ease system congestion during the holiday travel season.

“We are pleased that the industry has achieved significant improvements in on-time operations and in improving the customer experience,” said May. “Carriers continue to work internally and with government to find ways to further reduce delays, especially over the holidays.” May said that airlines will remain focused on continuing to provide safe, efficient air transportation.


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