Fewer people will fly home this Thanksgiving, but don't expect extra wiggle room. According to a new report released Thursday by the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), though there'll be fewer people in the air, they'll be more cramped than ever.
Roughly 37,000 fewer people per day are expected fly over the Thanksgiving holiday compared to last year's numbers.
The industry group, which represents leading carriers, expects roughly 23.2 million travelers will fly between Friday, Nov. 18 and Tuesday, Nov. 29. That number is down two percent from last year (23.6 million) and is 12 percent lower than peak volumes reached in the same period before the recession.
Daily passenger volumes during the holiday period will range from 1.3 million to 2.3 million.
U.S. carriers have reduced capacity to match the demand and offset higher costs, the association said. They are also flying less frequently to popular routes in order save.
Therefore, the domestic load factor - or number of passengers in seats - will remain on par with last year, according to ATA's report.
Sunday, Nov. 27 and Monday, Nov. 28 will be the busiest air-travel days during the Thanksgiving holiday, followed by Friday, Nov. 18.
While demand is down from last year and remains well below the 2006 peak, passengers still should expect full flights during the Thanksgiving holiday travel season as airlines have begun to reduce capacity and limit the number of seats available for sale due in part to rising cost pressures, ATA Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich said. Based on published airline schedules, these cuts are expected to continue through the winter.
U.S. passenger airlines showed a net income of $913 million for the first nine months of 2011, according to ATA.
While operating revenues rose $11.7 billion (12.7 percent), operating expenses also rose $13.8 billion (16.1 percent), reducing the net income 66 percent from the same period in 2010. ATA notes that fuel costs rose 38.1 percent during the period.
Higher costs have outpaced higher revenues thus far this year, and the industry's razor-thin profit margin means that airlines are keeping less than one penny in profit for every $1 in revenue, Heimlich said.
According to a separate report by travel site Hotwire, an astounding 82% of those planning to travel for Thanksgiving had not booked all of their travel arrangements as of Nov. 1. Last minute travelers can expect to pay a premium for their holiday arrangements.