2009 will be the first full year that award-winning Southwest Airlines has cut capacity. The low-cost carrier, based in Dallas, reduced its number of flights in late January—but there has been an even more dramatic drop in its number of passengers, as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday.
"The airline had told industry analysts on Jan. 22 that January's bookings and revenue trends look fairly strong. However, chief financial officer Laura Wright had warned that the carrier was seeing 'notable softness in post-January bookings.'"
Southwest has fought back by going on sale, with one-way fares from $49. Other major airlines are reporting a similar dip in bookings for February and March travel and are also responding by slashing fares in the hopes of filling seats.
An analysis by FareCompare.com, cited in USA Today, reveals some fares are down more than 50 percent from last winter and are much cheaper than they were in summer 2008, when airlines introduced hefty surcharges because of high fuel prices.
The USA Today story states that cheap airfares are currently available for travel through May and answers the eternal question of when to book a flight with a resounding "now." Aviation consultant Michael Boyd warns airlines will likely make successive flight cutbacks in reaction to the dwindling number of passengers over the next few months—his prediction is that the low fares available now will have disappeared by July.