Airlines: Planes will be Full This Summer

The trade group Airlines for America, which represents most U.S. carriers, has just released its annual summer forecast which essentially warns travelers against expecting any empty seats to stretch out in this summer.

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International Travel Up, Domestic Travel Flat

The full flights forecast says U.S. airlines will carry a record number of global travelers – about 2.24 million each day during June, July and August – and the number of international travelers is expected to surpass last year’s numbers although they are still off 5 percent from the record-breaking pre-recession summer of 2007. Domestically, passenger traffic is expected to remain flat.

Capacity Cutting Removes Empty Seats

However, even on domestic flights travelers will find fewer empty seats due to aggressive capacity cutting by the airlines in recent years, in which select routes and even entire cities have disappeared from airline schedules.

This ongoing airline strategy seeks to align the number of seats to consumer demand as perfectly as possible – to avoid any non-revenue producing empties. And as airfare analyst Rick Seaney points out, demand has been holding fairly steady for much of the year, despite higher airfare prices.

[Keep reading (below) for tips on what to do now – and, a silver lining]

What Summer Travelers Must Do Now

Anyone who plans to fly this summer should start shopping now, for three reasons:

  1. Cheaper prices are expected earlier in the airfare shopping window
  2. There is little chance of seeing last-minute deals this weekend
  3. If you wait too long, you may not get a seat at any price

How to Get a Better Seat for Little or Nothing

Another problem: today’s capacity-packed planes mean it’s harder and harder to find a seat beyond those in the middle of the row, especially for non-miles program members. When booking tickets, be sure to select a seat as early as allowed during that process; if you don’t get a good one, keep returning to the site to see if better ones have been freed-up (it happens). Also, be sure to check in for your flight at the earliest possible moment, which can give you a better shot at a good seat on airlines like Southwest (also try Southwest’s EarlyBird boarding – for just $10, you move toward the front of your boarding group).

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Summer Airfare – A Silver Lining

The forecast also focuses on what some might call the silver lining of airfares. Despite the fact that summer airline tickets are more expensive than last year, they have not kept up with the rate of inflation – at least if you calculate the rate of inflation starting from the year 2000. On the other hand, there were no baggage fees back in 2000 to worry about, either.


Published: May 10, 2012