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TravelHaven News Brief – Air Travel is no Gift This Holiday Season

This holiday travel season the post-recession rebound in travel coupled with year-long reductions in airline capacity will have planes flying at their fullest since World War II. About 41 million Americans are expected to fly during the holiday season, always one of the busiest travel seasons of the year. Last year saw a considerable drop in air travel, but demand has picked up throughout 2010, partly owing to growing optimism about the economy.

Infrequent travelers unfamiliar with security regulations new and old will probably add to long check-in and screening lines and additional hassles. TSA installation of more than six times as many full-body scanners since last holiday season is likely to result in additional slowdowns when passengers who decline the scan are checked by physical pat-downs instead. The number of scanners in use will increase by another 66% (to five hundred by New Year’s Eve.

As more savvy passengers trying to avoid checked bag fees on most big airlines of up to $25 per bag each way jockey for overhead bin space, passenger and crew frustrations will probably escalate and delays at gates will be more common while excess luggage is stowed in the hold.

And then there’s the cost of this year’s holiday trip. Domestic holiday fares are up 7.4% from 2009. International tickets are 14% higher than a year ago. There’s a glimmer of holiday cheer though; 2010 prices are less than those of 2008.

Even with all those negatives, on average 90% of aircraft seats will be filled on the busiest Thanksgiving flights on November 19, 24, 28 and 29. The percentage of seats filled this year will finish at its highest since 1944, when loads reached 88% percent.

Airlines made the deepest seating cuts since 1942 during the recession. The reduced capacity caused the largest companies to raise fares. As a result, they have experienced two consecutive quarterly profits for the first time since 2007.

Travelers can expect to pay up to $60 more per round-trip ticket from now through January 31, the 24 days of peak holiday demand, which, of course, have an extra charge. Seats may be cheaper for travelers willing to travel several days before Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve or on the holiday itself.