Airports Busy, Even Though Travel is Down

Airport workers say lines at ticket counters and security checkpoints are longer than expected

Visit Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport early in the morning, and you'll see something you may not expect these days: long lines at the ticket counters and security checkpoints.  

On one recent weekday morning, travelers waited 30 to 45 minutes to check in and then clear security. Ticket agents said they've recently seen passengers miss flights because they did not arrive early enough.

How is this possible at a time when airlines have dramatically cut flights?

The answer is passenger loads, which are still relatively high this summer, even though the airlines are suffering.  In other words, a lot of the remaining planes are flying full or close to full.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines said passengers flying this holiday weekend would face "full flights" and "strong loads," according to airline spokesman Brad Hawkins. Southwest does not release exact numbers on passenger loads until it reports quarterly earnings.

Just last week, the International Air Transport Association reported signs that air travel declines are beginning to stabilize.  The industry association said passenger loads on international flights were at 71.2 percent in May, down from 74.5 percent in May of 2008.

"We may have hit bottom, but we're a long way from recovery", said IATA president Giovanni Bisignani

One problem for the industry: Many of the passengers returning to the skies this summer were lured by bargain basement sales, paying significantly less than last year.

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