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More And More Airline Flights Are Filled To Capacity


NPR's business news starts with fewer flights and less room on them.

Of course airlines are always crowded during the Thanksgiving holiday. But if you've had the feeling lately that planes are becoming even more crowded, NPR's John Ydstie is here to tell you it's not your imagination.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: From the point of view of passengers sitting elbow to elbow at 30,000 feet, this year has continued a trend of record crowding. On average more than 80 percent of airline seats have been filled and plenty of flights have been packed to capacity.

Clifford Winston, a transportation expert at the Brookings Institution, says it's partly because of airline consolidation, but it's also that airlines have figured out how to make a profit - fly as full as possible.

CLIFFORD WINSTON: The airlines themselves have got their capacity discipline under control.

YDSTIE: Airlines used to be too quick to add planes and flights as the economy grew, only to be caught with too many seats in economic downturns. But in the past five years, they've cut the number of flights by 14 percent. Some midsize airports - like Cleveland and St. Louis - have lost 40 percent of their flights, and passengers can feel it.

WINSTON: Very crowded and certainly higher fares.

YDSTIE: Winston suggests a way to combat those twin ills for passengers: foreign competition.

WINSTON: In the same way that we allow foreign automakers to produce and sell cars in America, I am suggesting that we should allow foreign airlines to start serving U.S. routes.

YDSTIE: Of course U.S. airlines and their unions are likely to think that's a bad idea.

John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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