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Flights could get a little roomier

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KAI RYSSDAL: I took a business trip last week, a mid-week redeye from Los Angeles to Detroit. Not a flight you’d expect to be especially crowded. Somehow, though, I wound up crammed into the window seat at the very back of the plane. Believe me, I looked around, there were no other spots. Bad for me, good for the airlines. Full planes are moneymaking planes after all and, Marketplace’s Amy Scott reports, carriers are trying to cash in.

AMY SCOTT: Holiday travelers take heart, USA Today looked at flight schedules for later this year. It found that airlines will offer two percent more domestic seats this November than they did last year. In December they’ll add three percent more. The data come from consulting firm Back Aviation Solutions.

The firm’s David Beckerman says airlines are adding seats because in spite of higher prices people keep flying.

DAVID BECKERMAN: Passengers have shown a willingness to continue to pay these high prices. So if passenger demand is strong, you as an airline become encouraged to add back more capacity, particularly on the routes that are showing the strongest recovery.

But the numbers might be a bit misleading.

Analyst Joe Brancatelli runs a Web site for business travelers. He points out that Delta and Northwest both filed for bankruptcy last fall and slashed flights to cut costs. So their recovery may be padding figures for the industry. And, Brancatelli says, American Airlines is actually reducing capacity toward the end of the ear.

JOE BRANCATELLI: Most of the growth in the system is actually among the discount carriers, like JetBlue, Southwest, AirTran, who’ve been growing consistently anyway, because they’ve been taking market share away from the less well-run, less liked legacy carriers.

Brancatelli also says it’s typical to see a bump in flights around November and December, as snowbirds from the Northeast and Midwest head south for the winter. Still, any extra seats could take a bit of the pressure off airfares.

And who knows, you might just find an empty seat next to you when you fly.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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