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Airlines leave fewer seats empty

Also: A hotel expert predicts this year's trends, and sharp-tongued frequent fliers have some gripes about airline service.

January 10, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

If it feels a bit more crowded in your airplane cabin lately, it's probably not your imagination.

Airline experts say the industry is rebounding from the recession partly by limiting the number of new planes they add while the number of passengers continues to rise. As a result, the percentage of seats filled on each flight — the load factor — has reached the highest levels in at least 10 years.

But some airlines cram their cabins closer to capacity than others.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Hawaiian Airlines operated with an 85.49% load factor in the first half of 2010 — the highest of any airline. That is nearly 10% higher than Hawaiian's full-year load factor for 2000.

Airline spokesman Keoni Wagner said the rate was a sign of strong demand and loyalty by its customers. Hawaiian has had the best on-time performance in the industry for the last two years, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

When it comes to filling planes, United Airlines ranked second with an 84.24% load factor, and Delta Air Lines followed with 83.96%, according to the federal agency.

Lowest in the rankings for major U.S. carriers was Southwest Airlines, which had a load factor of 78.81% in the first half of 2010, up from 70.45% in full-year 2000.

• Hotel expert predicts trends

In 2010, the hotel industry began to rebound from one of the worst slumps in decades, with room rates and occupancy numbers rising near the end of the year.

But Andrew Freeman & Co., a San Francisco hospitality and restaurant consulting firm, predicts that the hottest trends for 2011 won't be directly related to rates or occupancy.

The consulting firm says hotels will offer new amenities and services, including more offerings for pet owners, "including dog walking services, pet food, beds and toys for the critters." For example, the Hotel Palomar in San Francisco accepts pets at no extra charge.

Among the other things we may see this year, the consulting firm says:

* More theater-type entertainment to keep guests eating and spending at the hotel. The Pearl Hotel in San Diego, for example, projects movies on an outdoor screen next to its pool once a week.

* Chalkboard walls or whiteboards in the rooms so guests can get creative without having to pay for damages. The Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Ore., has chalkboard doors on some rooms.

* More text messages to alert guests about food and entertainment offerings. Wente Vineyards in Livermore, Calif., texts members of its "messaging club" about last-minute deals at its restaurant, golf course and outdoor concert venue.

• Sharp-tongued fliers complain

Americans are shaking off the effects of the recession and returning to the skies. But travelers still have plenty of gripes about airline service.

A recent Zagat survey of 8,000 frequent fliers found that air travelers reported taking an average of 17.4 flights in 2010, up from 16.6 flights in 2009 and 16.3 flights in 2008.

But according to comments submitted to Zagat by some of the travelers surveyed, airlines are falling short of providing praiseworthy service. Such zingers included:

* The only thing missing is a blindfold and a cigarette.

* My bags get better service, but they pay extra.

* The only difference between economy and business classes is a shrimp on your salad.

* "Unwelcome aboard!"

* I don't love getting up-close-and-personal with the head of the person in front of me.

* Who made them mad at their customers?

* Entree selections should be labeled "choose your poison."

* When two crummy medium-size airlines merge, all you get is a crummy large airline.

* Seats make an iron maiden seem comfortable.

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