43 million passengers expected to travel on US airlines over winter holiday period


WASHINGTON, DC – 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 US airlines during the 21-day winter holiday travel season (spanning December 18, 2008 through January 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.

“While planes will be at or near capacity over the winter holiday travel period, the US 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 US airlines will carry approximately 2 million passengers per day over the 21-day period, with the busiest days expected to be December 19 and December 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, once again, 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.

ATA says that carriers will be prepared for the number of fliers expected over the next several weeks. But given this season’s tendency toward inclement weather, ATA urges passengers to make sure that they themselves are prepared.