Airlines Could Face Cutting More Flights in '09

Some industry consultants have raised questions about whether airlines may need to implement more capacity cuts in 2009.

Only AirTran Airways Inc. and Alaska Airlines Inc., two of the smaller major carriers, joined Southwest in reporting 2008 increases in traffic.

AirTran was the biggest gainer, saying its 2008 traffic jumped 9.6 percent, outstripping its 4.9 percent increase in capacity. Alaska Air's traffic increased 1.4 percent, with its capacity essentially flat.

While AirTran outpaced Southwest when all of 2008 is included, AirTran outshrank Southwest in December. AirTran's capacity fell 6.9 percent, compared with Southwest's 1 percent decline.

For the month, Southwest's traffic grew 1.1 percent despite the drop in capacity. Its load factor, or percentage of seats filled, increased 1.5 points to 69.7 percent. December marked the first time in seven months that Southwest's loads increased over the same month in 2007.

For many carriers, the biggest reductions are coming on domestic routes. In December, American reduced its capacity overall by 8.6 percent but cut its domestic capacity 11.8 percent compared with December 2007. Continental's capacity fell 9 percent overall, but 12.1 percent domestically.

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