If you flew in February, you probably noticed the lighter crowds. I only traveled twice. And while my particular flights were nowhere near empty, you could score a vacant seat beside you if you tried. Load factors were still north of 70 percent for most airlines. I remember when 70 percent load factors were considered high, and 75 percent? Geez…it must be Christmas!
Airlines have done an ok job of pulling down capacity, but traffic is falling slightly faster which led to lower load factors for most airlines last month. February has historically been one of the lighter travel months, but this week’s plethora of traffic results was eye-opening. It’s important to keep in mind that the remarkable reductions in capacity were done in response to near $150 dollar a barrel oil, not the unraveling of financial markets and general downturn in economic activity that we are now experiencing. I expect capacity to continue to come down, and perhaps accelerate as airlines seem to have finally developed some discipline in this regard. March and April will be key months to watch as spring-breakers take to the skies. If college students don’t fly south in their usual numbers, that could be an indicator of economic weakness that’s even worse than I think it is.
Capacity reductions aside, there are some pretty good deals out there right now if you’re looking to travel. Keep your eyes and ears open, and use a service like Yapta or Travelocity farewatcher to monitor fare changes in markets you’d like to travel. This could be an interesting year in travel. Stay flexible, and be ready to jump on any last-minute deals.