Thanksgiving Air Travel: Expect Full Flights

Airline passengers can expect full flights during the upcoming Thanksgiving travel season, the Air Transport Association (ATA) reports. The full flights are forecast despite about 37,000 fewer people per day are expected to fly during the holiday period compared with last year. The reason: U.S. carriers have reduced capacity to match demand and offset higher costs.

In total, ATA expects about 23.2 million air travelers will fly on U.S. carriers’ domestic and international routes during a 12-day period surrounding the holiday – a two percent year-over-year drop – and down from the 23.6 million people who flew over the Thanksgiving period in 2010. The 2011 forecast anticipates that total volumes for the period will be 12 percent less than the peak volumes reached in the same period in 2006, ATA says.

“While demand is down from last year and remains well below the 2006 peak, passengers still should expect full flights during the Thanksgiving holiday travel season as  airlines have begun to reduce capacity and limit the number of seats available for sale due in part to rising cost pressures,” said ATA Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich. “Based on published airline schedules, these cuts are expected to continue through the winter.”

Daily passenger volumes during this holiday period will range from 1.3 million to 2.3 million. Based on sample data from 2009 and 2010, the busiest air-travel days for the period are expected to be Sunday, Nov. 27 and Monday, Nov. 28, followed by Friday, Nov. 18, with load factors exceeding 85 percent, ATA estimates.

Especially during the busy holiday travel season, passengers are encouraged to check their flight status at their air carrier’s website before leaving for the airport, and to remember to arrive early to allow plenty of time for check-in and security screening, ATA says.

In related news, an ATA tally of publicly reporting U.S. passenger airlines shows a net income of $913 million for the first nine months of 2011. While operating revenues rose $11.7 billion (12.7 percent), operating expenses also rose $13.8 billion (16.1 percent), reducing net income 66 percent from the same period in 2010, and resulting in a narrow profit margin of 0.9 percent. Notably, fuel expenses rose 38.1 percent in the period.

“Higher costs have outpaced higher revenues thus far this year, and the industry’s razor-thin profit margin means that airlines are keeping less than one penny in profit for every $1 in revenue,” Heimlich said. “Aviation tax increases currently being proposed would exacerbate the problem, further jeopardizing air-service levels and the ability of the industry to invest in jobs, new routes and the overall economy.”

The White House has proposed and the Congressional Super Committee tasked with debt reduction is considering, tripling the security taxes to $7.50 per departure, and adding a $100 departure tax to every passenger and cargo flight, ATA notes. "These taxes combined would cost the airline industry and its customers $36 billion over the next 10 years, and as many as 181,000 U.S. jobs next year alone," ATA said.


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