Airline fliers can expect skies to be busy, crowded

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PHILADELPHIA – Be ready to cozy up to your seatmate if you’re planning to take an airline flight over this Memorial Day weekend – or any time this summer.

In an effort to cut costs, the nation’s airlines have trimmed the number of flights they will operate between June 1 and Aug. 31. But the cuts come at a time of rising demand, leading to a capacity crunch.

The carriers expect to fly about 207 million passengers this summer, or 1 percent more than the record number they transported in the same three months last year, industry officials say.

About 21 million people will fly on domestic and U.S. airlines’ international flights in the last 10 days of May, 2 percent more than in the same period last year, the Air Transport Association trade group estimates.

The cuts in airline capacity mean more flights than ever will take off with every seat filled. About 80 percent to 85 percent of all available seats on most airlines will be occupied this summer, just as they have been on many days this year, the airline association said.

“I don’t remember being on a flight with an empty seat,” said Jeff Cantwell, a sales executive from West Chester, Pa., who flies practically every week. “Recently I’ve been flying more on United and Northwest, and I’ve seen that on all the flights, on the big planes and the little ones.”

Deep financial problems the last five years prompted many airlines to take hundreds of older airplanes out of their fleets. The average number of U.S. domestic flights will be down 4 percent this summer from last summer and the number of available seats down 4.6 percent, according to eSkyGuide, an online service of American Express Co.’s publishing division.

At the same time, international air service has been growing, with the number of foreign flights per week up 1.1 percent, and the average number of available seats up 2.3 percent, this summer over last year, eSkyGuide said.

Flight-Survival Tips

Flying over the Memorial Day weekend and this summer will require patience. Here are some tips for coping.

• Consider getting a ride or taking public transportation to the airport to avoid crowded parking facilities.

• Get to the airport at least 90 minutes before a scheduled domestic flight, and two hours before an international flight.

• Put anything you can’t afford to lose, such as prescription medicine, eyeglasses and precious jewelry, in carry-on bags.

• Carry government-issued photo identification.

• To avoid standing in line at the airport, check in for a flight on an airline’s Web site before leaving home, or at a kiosk in the ticketing lobby.

• Bring food and water from home, or buy it at the airport, since you are unlikely to get much from an airline.

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