Summertime. The livin’ may be easy, but the flyin’ ain’t.
Airlines for America, the trade group representing the interests of most U.S. airlines, today released its forecast for summer air travel. Predictably, the forecast is for more: more travelers, and more airline seats to accommodate them.
A4A expects a 4 percent year-over-year increase in passenger traffic on U.S. airlines for the June-August summer period. That means an increase from 224.8 million passengers last summer to 234.1 million this summer.
From a passenger-comfort standpoint, the important number isn’t the sheer volume of travelers; it’s the load factor, which reflects the percentage of seats occupied. According to A4A, the airlines will add 123,000 seats a day to accommodate the expected increase of 100,000 passengers per day. So, with the capacity increase outpacing the increase in flyers, this summer’s load factors should be slightly lower than last summer’s.
That’s good news for travelers. All things being equal, fuller flights are less comfortable, especially in coach, where airlines continue to shrink the distance between seats. So lower load factors should mean a bit more wiggle room in the main cabin. But not much.
Last summer, load factors for the U.S. carriers averaged 83.8 percent in June, 83.4 percent in July, and 82.6 percent in August. Even with the added capacity, this summer’s loads will remain well above 80 percent overall. And on more popular routes, planes will be flying more than 90 percent full.
Summer Survival Guide
What can you do to mitigate the discomfort?
Enrolling in TSA’s Precheck program costs $85, and gives trusted travelers access to expedited security-clearance lines at participating airports. There’s never been a better time to sign up.
As for the flight experience itself, short of splurging for a first-class ticket, there’s no magic bullet. Leverage your elite status to upgrade, or cash in miles for premium-cabin flights. Book an aisle seat whenever possible, and fly on carriers like JetBlue that feature an extra smidgen of legroom. Perhaps pay extra to upgrade to economy plus. But mostly, it’s a matter of grinning and keeping your claustrophobia in check.
Reader Reality Check
Are you prepared for the summer travel crush?
After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.