A new report from the national Department of Transportation shows a lot of us are not traveling this spring, which points towards a difficult summer travel season too.  Nationwide, airlines are now seeing about 3.5 million fewer passengers than they did last year, a drop of 6%.  As fewer people fly, airlines are cutting back on flights.  And that means we all could end up paying the price.

 

Maybe it's a good thing.  A record number of flights are on time, or early.  Security lines aren't crowded, and flights like Jim Smith's trip from Salt Lake City to Seattle aren't packed either.  Smith says, "I had plenty of room. I had a whole row to myself."  But now, airlines across the country are reducing the number of flights, by 10% or more for some carriers, to make those trips more profitable.  So don't expect the hassle of air travel to get much easier.  Smith says, "I think it's probably going to get real bad because people haven't got the money to travel of course.  They're going to cut airplanes, and it's going to get crowded again."

 

One place it's not crowded is the first-class seats.  Business travel is down 13%, and that's big.  Business passengers usually pay more to fly, and help airlines make up the difference for the cheap seats.  Without that first-class cushion, airlines aren't offering as many low fares for the average coach passenger.  Passenger William Millhouse says, "We're going to look for the best prices, so basically, you've got to offer the best service." 

 

And in terms of on-time arrivals, service has improved overall for the airline industry.  Hawaiian Airlines is tops on the list with 91% of its flights on-time.  Southwest is second at 83%.  Seattle-based Alaska Air is third from the bottom at 72%, and facing more pressure from travelers when it comes to airfares.  As passenger Catherine Howard puts it, "To attract more business, go down on the price."  Experts say you might find deals in the short run, but they won't last for many carriers.  The industry right now is trying to recoup whatever money it can before the economic turbulence still to come.