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Airline Capacity Jumped in October, but It's Not Sparking a Fare War -- Yet

Capacity constraint? What capacity constraint? Though the airlines are doing a good job of talking the talk, October traffic actually saw some significant increases in capacity nearly across the board. That's not what most analysts like to see since more capacity means airlines need to get more aggressive with fares to fill those seats. And lower fares means airlines will get right back into the same money-losing place they finally clawed their way out of in the last year.

AirTran (AAI) was the only airline to maintain capacity discipline versus last year with a 0.2 percent increase and I suppose Frontier's change was minor as well with a 2 percent bump, but that's where it ended.

Setting aside about Allegiant's (ALGT) always high increase, Delta (DAL) took the top prize with a 9.5 percent jump. This doesn't mean it had 9.5 percent more airplanes. It looks like the airline has just done more flying in October than it usually does, and most of that is by increasing utilization of the existing fleet. But Delta isn't alone. Alaska (ALK) also posted increases over 9 percent with the remaining legacy carriers and Southwest (LUV) falling somewhere in the 4 to 6 percent range.

So is the sky falling? Are airlines going to be increasing capacity too much? I don't think so -- at least, I'm not concerned yet. October is sort of a shoulder season in air travel. The doldrums of September are gone and the summer is long gone. That being said, some of the summer flying schedule continues into the month. It's a month of transition and that can result in changes that don't end up being indicative of the actual capacity being put out there in the long run. We'll have to see what November looks like.

Here are the October traffic numbers from 2010 vs 2009. Available Seat Miles (ASMs) are a measure of total potential passenger capacity while Revenue Passenger Miles (RPMs) are a measure of actual passenger capacity. Load factor is RPMs/ASMs.

Airline ASMs RPMs Load Factor
AirTran 0.2% 4.3% +3.2 pts
Alaska* 9.1% 15.9% +4.8 pts
Allegiant 18.1% 18.9% +0.5 pts
American* 4.6% 5.2% +0.5 pts
Continental 4.2% 5.0% +0.7 pts
Delta 9.5% 8.6% -0.7 pts
Frontier 2.0% 4.0% +2.0 pts
JetBlue 13.2% 15.7% +1.8 pts
Southwest 5.0% 8.3% +2.5 pts
United 5.7% 6.5% +0.6 pts
US Airways# 5.5% 7.0% +1.2 pts
*Does not include regional operations
#Only includes wholly-owned regional subsidiaries


Photo via Flickr user Daquella manera/CC 2.0