Bart Jansen, USA TODAY
Airline executives expect a strong holiday travel season, with full planes.
"Our holiday demand is very strong," says Doug Parker, chairman of US Airways. "It's as high, if not higher, than we've ever seen. The holidays are always a peak time for us. Very strong demand."
Planes have been averaging a record six out of seven seats full in recent months, and the holiday season could pack the planes even fuller.
"I would expect to see around the holidays, as we generally do, a very high load factor," says Parker, who Wednesday spoke with reporters after a board meeting of the industry group Airlines for America.
Having New Year's Day fall mid-week means more than the usual amount of travelers will be returning in January, which could dampen year-to-year comparisons.
But Gary Kelly, president of Southwest, says that after demand was soft in September, October was "very solid" and "Thanksgiving travel was really good."
"The outlook for the Christmas holiday period looks really good as well," Kelly says. "It's inconsistent, so we definitely have our cautions and concerns with the economy, but Thanksgiving was really good."
Dave Barger, president of JetBlue, said Hurricane Sandy in late October hurt travel for any airlines like his that fly heavily in the New York area. But he said holiday bookings in that region are returning to normal.
"It was a very tough end of October into November," Barger said. "But we are quite heartened to see what is happening in December."
Without forgetting the gifts, William Flynn, president of Atlas Air, says "cargo will be strong, too."