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Airline traffic decline eases in April

Associated Press / May 8, 2009
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DALLAS - Passenger traffic is still falling on nearly all US airlines, but the nosedive in March gave way to a more gentle decline in April, raising hopes that the worst of the travel slump may be over.

But analysts say it's too early to declare a turning point for the airlines, which suffered huge losses and falling revenue in the first quarter.

They say the increase in traffic is coming from budget-conscious consumers who are reacting to cheap sales.

Airlines measure traffic in miles flown by paying customers - it doesn't matter how much they paid.

UAL Corp.'s United Airlines reported that last month's traffic declined 10.5 percent compared with April 2008, but the declines were much smaller at Delta Air Lines Inc., AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, and others.

Southwest Airlines Co. beat everybody with a 4.1 percent increase in traffic, which it credited to Easter falling in April this year instead of March last year.

Even if travel demand is no longer in a free fall, the best customers - high-paying business travelers - could be slower to return. The airlines say travel is one of the first items businesses cut during a recession, and they have seen more corporate travelers switch from first-class to cheaper coach seats.

All the major US airlines reduced capacity last month to save money.