Holiday Travelers Face Delays, Higher Fares, Fewer Flights

High airfares and an economic crisis are forcing many Americans to stay home this holiday season. However, air travel is expected to be more crowded than ever this Thanksgiving.

With the airline industry launching its capacity reduction initiative this year, there are fewer flights to choose from, meaning a change of transportation plans for some travelers. United Airlines plans to cut its domestic capacity by up to 15.5 percent for the fourth quarter and Continental Airlines by 9 percent.

These cutbacks result in crowded flights, almost always at maximum capacity. Air Transport Authority projects that planes will be nearly 90 percent full this season. Consequently, there will be fewer seats for people who accidentally miss their flights or have problems. Many people could then end up stranded in the airports.

Another downfall is the number of seats airlines are cutting back on to save money. If a consumer happens to get stuck somewhere, there will be fewer opportunities to move them through to their final destination.

Along with fewer seats and flights come higher fares. Tickets are estimated to be 15 percent to 20 percentt higher for Thanksgiving and Christmas compared to last year.

These complications in the airline industry have caused some travelers to change their holiday plans.

“I plan on staying in D.C. with my brother and his family for Thanksgiving simply because I waited too long to by a ticket to go home and now they are expensive,” said Treesia Herbert, a sophomore majoring in advertising at Howard University. “But I’ll be home for Christmas.”

Even though some cash-strapped travelers are making plans to save money by staying with family instead of hotels, some are cutting their trips short by a couple of days to get better deals. A few consumers are even accepting layovers and multiple stops to reduce their ticket cost. Some are looking to other forms of transportation such as driving or taking the train or bus to spend the holidays the way they want to.

While some are cutting the peripheral costs, the silver lining of this dilemma seems to be the hotel discounts being offered since most hotels are finding it difficult to fill rooms this season.

Rick Seaney, chief executive of Farecompare.com, offers a tip for pessimistic travelers. “There are still last-minute holiday deals for those who think they can’t afford to fly,” Seaney said. “Procrastinators are going to be rewarded this year.”