Remember when it was common to be seated in a airplane row with multiple empty seats you could stretch out on? It seems those days are gone. It’s now more likely you’ll hear flight attendants say, “Today’s flight is completely full, so please store small items under the seat in front of you.”
That’s more than a feeling. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics says 2013 was a record year for flying, with 83.1 percent of all seats filled — the highest rate ever. Although it may seem annoying to the weary traveler to face seats filled completely around you, the fact of the matter is that the more seats an airline fills, the more efficiently it’s operating.Think of an airline like a rental truck you rented to move your furniture to a new house. Is it better to fill your truck up and make one trip or fill it halfway and make multiple trips? Which costs more? Which saves you more time and money?
The answer is pretty obvious.
Airlines want to fill up every flight so they’re fully utilizing their capacity and generating the greatest profit for the lowest cost per passenger. Every single flight carries fixed costs like gas, the pilots, and the flight attendants, among many other costs. That’s true whether you’re carrying one passenger or 400. But if you can carry 400, your cost per passenger drops significantly.
In 2013, although there were more travelers than ever, there were also fewer flights. More people are flying for business and for pleasure than ever before, but airlines are reducing the number of flights to ensure they’re as full as possible.
What seems inconvenient is actually greater efficiency on the part of airlines compared to how they used to operate in the past. And while we may not care so much about the airline’s bottom line, it’s nice to know the airline is more likely to stay in business, so we can get to where we need to go the next time we need a flight.
While it may be a pain and make us uncomfortable, this is going to be business as usual for the airline industry for the foreseeable future. So it’s important that we adapt and find new ways to be comfortable and enjoy the flight.