Airlines to slash flights at Detroit Metro

Sept. 3, 2009


Sep. 3--Planning to travel for a fall or winter break? You may want to book your trip now.

Detroit Metro Airport is near the top of the list of U.S. airports expected to suffer the most from cutbacks in flights and seats in the year's last 3 months, leaving travelers with fewer options.

Data that global flight-information company OAG Aviation gave the Free Press this week shows that of the 30 biggest U.S. airports, Metro Airport will have the third most seat reductions and the fifth largest number of flight eliminations.

Weak travel demand caused by the recession has sent the airline industry into a tailspin, and carriers are shrinking flight schedules and using smaller planes to cut costs.

Airlines at Metro Airport plan to sell 483,991 fewer seats during the last 3 months of the year, with only airports in Chicago and Cincinnati faring worse. And the number of flights is expected to drop by about 2,518. On average, that amounts to 27 fewer flights a day, according to OAG.

"Book as early as possible," advised travel expert Terry Trippler. "And be as flexible as you can with your dates."

Fewer flights, seats can add up to savings

Fewer seats and flights at Detroit Metro Airport this fall seems like a recipe for huge fare hikes. But experts say travelers don't need to push the panic button yet.

Airlines are already running fare sales because demand for flights this fall is expected to be weak. And a possible swine flu epidemic could result in more empty seats, said travel expert Tom Parsons of

"Last year, we saw nothing but fare hikes," he said. "This year, we're seeing nothing but fare sales."

Terry Trippler, another travel expert, said shrinking flight schedules won't change airfares much. But he warned that the situation will force travelers to look at booking flights on airlines other than the ones they usually fly.

The expected cutbacks at Metro Airport -- a 9% drop in seats and a 5% reduction in flights -- reflect tough times in the airline industry. Carriers are using smaller planes and cutting unprofitable routes nationwide as the recession puts a crimp on demand for travel.

But the reductions are less severe than those that took place last fall, when airlines were struggling because of skyrocketing jet fuel prices, said David Beckerman, vice president of market intelligence at OAG Aviation, a global flight information and data solutions company.

"Whether we'll continue to see decline will depend, in large part, on whether and how the economy recovers," he said.

He blamed the expected cutbacks at Metro Airport on the downturn in the auto industry and adjustments made after the merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines. Because of the merger, Delta is now the dominant carrier at the airport, the airline's second-largest hub.

Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott declined to discuss the specific reductions Delta is making in Detroit. "While we have taken steps to adjust capacity and the gauge of some aircraft, Delta passengers still enjoy flights to over 130 domestic and international destinations from Detroit," she said.

Elliott noted that this fall, Delta will offer 477 departures from Detroit on its busiest day of the week -- normally a Thursday -- which is about the same number as a year ago. But starting this month, the airline is reducing the number of seats it flies throughout its system by 10%.

The reduction in flights and seats will hurt the airport, which is on the verge of laying off some of its employees because of lower revenues. In the first half of this year, the number of departing passengers at the airport fell nearly 13%.

"We recognize the carriers are diligently working to match their seat miles to the actual demand. That's business," said airport spokesman Michael Conway. "What we really need is a recovery."

Contact KATHERINE YUNG: 313-222-8763 or [email protected]