Texas carriers' jets get more crowded

Aug. 5, 2007

The summer vacation season has helped the three major Texas-based airlines set records in filling their airplanes.

American Airlines Inc. said Thursday that it filled 87.9 percent of its seats in July, the highest load factor for any month in the carrier's history and 0.8 percentage points higher than last July.

Southwest Airlines Co. said 81.4 of its seats were occupied last month, a record load factor for any July and second best in its history - behind only the 82.1 percent in June 2007.

And on Wednesday, Continental Airlines Inc. said it established records on all areas of its operations: 87.0 percent for all its system; 88.0 percent for its domestic flights; 86.0 percent for its international flights; and 86.4 percent combined for its flights and that of its regional carriers.

Continental's 87.0 percent system-wide load factor - or percentage of seats filled with paying passengers - compares with a July 2006 load factor of 86.0 percent.

American's higher loads marked the 10th straight month that the Fort Worth-based carrier reported fuller airplanes than the same month a year earlier.

However, American accomplished its record while shrinking its capacity; both Southwest and Continental are growing.

American's traffic declined 2.9 percent to 12.92 billion revenue passenger miles over July 2006. A revenue passenger mile is one passenger flown one mile and is a standard measure of airline traffic.

However, American's capacity declined even more, 3.7 percent, to 14.7 billion available seat miles. With capacity down more than demand, its airplanes were fuller.

Southwest said its traffic increased 11.4 percent to 7.05 billion revenue passenger miles, on an 8.7 percent jump in capacity to 8.66 billion available seat miles.

Continental's traffic climbed 5.4 percent to 8.18 revenue passenger miles, with its capacity up 4.2 percent to 9.40 billion available seat miles.

Among other airlines reporting Thursday, AirTran Airways Inc. said its traffic increased 30.1 percent to 1.81 billion revenue passenger miles, on a 23 percent climb in capacity to 13.06 billion available seat miles, and its load factor rose 4.7 percentage points to 86.0 percent. AirTran said its traffic, capacity and load factor all set records.

Most U.S. airlines have seen record loads in their airplanes this year. The crowds traditionally decline a bit in August, but airlines have said that demand has been strong through the summer.

Continental estimated that its July unit revenue - revenue per available seat mile - was up 4 percent to 5 percent for its mainline flying, excluding regional partners. That was at the upper end of what analysts had been expecting.