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Expect crowded flights for Thanksgiving, airlines warn

November 07, 2012|By Hugo Martin
  • Business-class passengers on a United Airlines flight to Hawaii.
Business-class passengers on a United Airlines flight to Hawaii. (Los Angeles Times )

Even if you do watch what you eat this Thanksgiving, expect things to get tight in the cabin on your holiday flights.

On the busiest travel days around Thanksgiving, the average flight is expected to be 90% full, according to Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation's largest airlines.

Flights will be especially crowded on Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving, and on Nov. 25 and 26, the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving, according to the trade group.

In contrast, the average flight in 2011 was 82% full, according to federal statistics. The rate of filled seats on planes, known as the "load factor," has been on the rise over the last few years as airlines have merged, cut less-profitable routes and consolidated flights on popular routes.

About 24 million Americans are expected to fly between Nov. 16 and Nov. 27, a 3% increase over the same period in 2011, according to Airlines for America.

Travel experts say one way to avoid the crowds is to fly several days before and several days after the holiday. Another alternative: Stay home.

"The Thanksgiving period is the worst time to fly because Thanksgiving Day is the one day of the year where everyone -- regardless of race or creed -- wants to be in a place at a certain time," said Joe Brancatelli, a travel expert who writes for the business travel website Joe Sent Me.


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Follow Hugo Martin on Twitter at @hugomartin

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