Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Look for Crowded Planes, Skies in Summer Travel Season

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Look for Crowded Planes, Skies in Summer Travel Season

Article excerpt

The prognosis for summer airline travel isn't pleasant for travelers who like elbow room and low fares, experts say.

Airplanes during the peak travel season likely will be very crowded, even more so than last summer when three of four seats were filled on the average flight.

And air fares, while not rising as sharply as last year, will still be higher than in 1996, industry observers say. "Out of Dallas, I'd say any time from June 15 to Aug. 15, we're going to have every screaming kid and everything else you can think of on the planes, and that two-hour ride is going to seem like four," said Tom Parsons, editor of Best Fares discount travel magazine. "Oh, man, this summer for business travelers is going to be a nightmare," said Vivian Lee, airline analyst for BT Securities Corp. "You're going to see very full planes this summer." People who flew in summer 1996 remember few empty seats, particularly during peak hours and on peak days. According to the Air Transport Association, U.S. carriers filled 75.1 percent of their seats in June-August 1996, peaking at a load factor of 76.3 percent in August. For all of 1996, U.S. carriers reported a load factor of 69.8 percent, the highest percentage in 50 years. So far, 1997 is running ahead of 1996. Terry Trippler, editor of Airfare Report, offered a succinct prediction for the busy travel months this summer: "Full planes, crowded airports and slightly higher prices." The Travel Industry Association of America isn't predicting whether airplanes will be more crowded this year, but the group anticipates that a lot of people will be traveling. "We're expecting it to be a good summer in part because people feel better about the economy, inflation is down, unemployment is low, and, despite recent increases, interest rates are relatively low," said spokesman Eric Pina. "There's been five or six years of strong consumer confidence." Trippler said business travelers may suffer most. Although airlines try to save choice seats for its their higher-paying business clients, the reality is that vacationers book far in advance and lay claim to the window and aisle seats. That often leaves the business traveler stuck in the middle seats on airplanes, even though he or she may have paid top dollar for a ticket. …

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