Packed planes the new normal as airlines fill more seats

October 02, 2018
crowded plane load factors
Photo: CNN

A record northern summer season saw more passengers packed into planes than ever before.

New International Air Transport Association figures show that airline passengers loads in August hit record levels as global passenger traffic climbed by 6.4 percent.

That’s a double dose of bad news for passengers because high load factors usually mean higher fares as well as cramped conditions.

The global load factor, essentially a reflection of the percentage of seat airlines are filling,  topped 85 percent with low-cost carrier hotspot Europe hitting a high 88.7 percent.

North American airlines also packed in passengers with a regional load factor of 86.5 percent while the fast-growing Asia-Pacific recorded a figure of 84.3 percent.

READ: US airline seat regulation may not mean more legroom.

The least squeezy region? Africa at 77.9 percent.

Domestic passengers have been coping with full planes for some years and low-cost carriers such as Ryanair now boast load factors of 90 percent.

There are now entire countries heading in that direction.

Figures for domestic operations show countries with load factors in the mid to high 80s include China, India, Russia and the US.

Countries where you still stand a chance of finding an empty seat next to you include Australia and Brazil.

International flights, once a haven of empty seats,  have also become more crowded as passenger numbers have grown and airlines have become better at matching capacity to demand.

The international load factor for European carriers during August — a whopping 88.9 percent — was actually higher than the region’s overall figure.

Ditto for North America where the international load factor was 87.2 percent.

Asia-pacific carriers managed a figure of 82.6 percent as capacity lagged a 7.5 percent rise in August traffic but the percentage of seats filled in Latin America slid due to capacity growth and hurricane-related disruptions. With a load factor of 81.4 percent, however, the region still beat the Middle East at 80.7 percent.

“The industry experienced continued strong traffic growth in August, putting the cap on a very good peak travel season,’’ said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac.

“The all-time record load factor reflects that airlines are maximizing the efficiency of their assets at a time of rising fuel prices and other costs that are limiting the opportunities for low fare stimulation,”