* Experts see stronger bookings this summer
* Leisure travel demand has been "pent up"
* Airline shares mixed; Index down 0.23 percent
By Kyle Peterson
CHICAGO, March 24 Summer bookings on major U.S.
airlines seem to be up from a year ago with help from fare
sales as the industry attempts to regain its footing in the
post-recession era, industry experts said on Wednesday.
Carriers generally do not disclose figures on advance
bookings, but executives have said recently -- and experts
agree -- that bookings are strong heading into the peak summer
Summer is typically the strongest travel season for U.S.
airlines. Solid bookings growth this summer could ensure full
planes and higher revenue, leading to 2010 profits.
"It looks like it's going to be a better summer than many
people thought it was going to be even three months ago," said
Terry Trippler, a travel expert at rulestoknow.com. "I think a
lot of it is pent-up demand."
Leisure travelers curbed spending during the 2009 economic
recession, but the financial pressures seem to be lifting now
and those travelers are back.
"Given the improving jobs picture, the number of job losses
has slowed considerably from last year and the number of people
filing for initial jobless claims has stabilized at lower rates
for quite some time, I believe this should translate into
better bookings," said Morningstar equity analyst Basili
The airline industry was hit particularly hard during the
recession amid a retrenchment of travel spending. They offset
those losses by cutting capacity and issuing new fees for items
and services such as bag checks that once were once were
included in the ticket price.
The Arca airline index .XAL has gained about 140 percent
since May 2009, extending gains sharply in 2010 on the improved
outlook. Carriers say the clouds have, indeed, parted. Speaking
last month at the Reuters Travel and Leisure Summit, Kathryn
Mikells, chief financial officer at United Airlines parent UAL
Corp UAUA.O, said "overall bookings continue to be strong."
Despite signs of returning demand, carriers have been
unable to bolster fares much this year. In fact, Trippler said
the reason bookings are up is fare sales that have lured back
some of the penny-pinching travelers.
"In the month, of March there have been quite a few sales,"
Trippler said. "And that has filled some of the gaps."
Airline shares were mixed on Wednesday, with the Arca
airline index down 0.23 percent. The shares of United Airlines
parent UAL Corp UAUA.O were up 0.97 percent at $19.72 on
Nasdaq. Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) shares were up 1.41 percent
at $13.62 on the New York Stock Exchange.
AMR Corp AMR.N, parent of American Airlines, were down
0.45 percent at $8.91 on NYSE.
(Reporting by Kyle Peterson; editing by Andre Grenon)