Americans can expect airports to be busier and planes to be fuller than ever, according to a forecast by the main trade association for U.S. airlines two weeks ahead of the holiday. And fares are already more expensive.
Airlines for America expects nearly 24 million travelers to fly from Friday, Nov. 16, through Tuesday, Nov. 27. That's up narrowly from a year earlier. Last year's tally was flat from 2010. But traffic on the nation's airlines is still 10 percent below the peak travel years of 2006 and 2007.
For those traveling on the busiest days around Thanksgiving, planes are expected to be close to 90 percent full, the trade group says. That would be a record for the holiday. Sunday, Nov. 25 is projected as the busiest travel day, followed by Wednesday, Nov. 21 and Monday, Nov. 26.
Flights will be packed tighter because there are fewer of them. Airlines have been reducing flights to better match demand, which in turn allows them to raise prices. So far this year domestic ticket prices are up 4 percent from 2011, according to the group.
Cutting flights also allows airlines to save on fuel, often their biggest expense.
Collectively, U.S. airlines' revenue rose 5.6 percent in the first nine months of this year. But fuel costs rose by 6.2 percent, cutting the amount of money earned per passenger. On average, the ten largest U.S. airlines made just 50 cents for every passenger they flew from January through September, Airlines for America said.