CHICAGO Nov 25 The number of travelers over
the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday will be down sharply this year,
but downsized airlines and unpopular bag check fees may mean no
fewer headaches than a year ago.
"It's going to be a little bit more unpleasant than usual,"
said Rick Seaney, chief executive at air fare research site
"I think what you're seeing is the demand has withered at
the same pace as the cutbacks," he said.
The Air Transport Association of America (ATA), an industry
trade group, predicted a 10 percent year-over-year decrease in
the number of passengers traveling on U.S. airlines during this
year's Thanksgiving holiday season.
The three busiest travel days surrounding Thanksgiving Day
are usually the Wednesday before the holiday, and the Sunday
and Monday following the holiday. On these days, ATA estimated
that planes would be nearly 90 percent full.
The airline industry, battered severely in the first half
of 2008 by soaring fuel costs, has slashed capacity -- the
number of seats for sale.
AMR Corp's AMR.N American Airlines has said it trim
domestic capacity up to 12 percent in the fourth quarter. UAL
Corp's UAUA.O United Airlines said it would cut its
fourth-quarter mainline capacity up to 16.5 percent.
The goal was to offset airlines' fuel burdens with fare
pricing power and by streamlining operations.
In the second half of 2008, the price of crude oil CLc1
fell some 65 percent from a record high near $150 a barrel to
near $50. The decline was welcome relief for airlines.
But the weak economy that triggered the oil slump also
eroded travel budgets. By some estimates, the unusual
confluence of events more-or-less was neutral to the embattled
FareCompare's Seaney said fares, which rose rapidly early
this year, stabilized in the second half and are roughly the
same as a year ago. He said many airlines also are offering
holiday sales to boost demand.
For travelers, Thanksgiving will be the first major test of
airline efficiency for the downsized industry.
At least one industry watcher expects travelers to see some
key advantages, including fewer flight delays and shorter lines
at security checkpoints, stores and concession stands.
"The overall hassle factor is going to drop substantially,"
said Terry Trippler, travel expert at TripplerTravel.com.
Trippler acknowledged, however, one factor that could
disrupt the smoothness he predicts at airports during the
holiday travel period.
New revenue-generating fees -- especially a controversial
bag check fee -- could slow lines as thrifty travelers are
forced to either gate check luggage or cram more items into
overhead compartments in aircraft cabins.
But, in general, Trippler expects holiday air travel,
despite new fees and other pitfalls, to be more fluid than in
"I think people are going to say 'I paid $150 more, but boy
was it worth it,'" he said.
(Reporting by Kyle Peterson; Editing by Bernard Orr)