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Thanksgiving flights expected to be 90% full on average

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times –

If you plan to fly for the Thanksgiving holiday, you can practically give up on the idea of having an empty seat next to you.

On the busiest travel days before and after Thanksgiving Day, the average flight is expected to be 90 percent full, according to Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s largest airlines.

In contrast, the average flight throughout 2011 was 82 percent full, according to federal statistics. The rate of filled seats on planes, known as the “load factor,” has risen in the past few years as airlines have merged, cut less profitable routes and consolidated flights.

The trade group warned that flights will be especially crowded Wednesday, Nov. 21, Sunday, Nov. 25, and Monday, Nov. 26.

About 24 million Americans are expected to fly from Nov. 16 to Nov. 27, a 3 percent increase over the same period in 2011, according to Airlines for America.

Travel experts say one way to avoid the crowds is to fly several days before and several days after the holiday. Another alternative: Stay home.

“The Thanksgiving period is the worst time to fly because Thanksgiving Day is the one day of the year where everyone — regardless of race or creed — wants to be in a place at a certain time,” said Joe Brancatelli, a travel expert who writes for the business travel website JoeSentMe.com.

“All Americans celebrate the holiday. The system is simply not designed for this kind of pressure.”

The trade group also reported that the nation’s airlines enjoyed a 5.6 percent increase in revenues in the first nine months of 2012 compared with the same period last year. But because of higher fuel costs, the 10 largest airlines recorded a profit margin of only 0.2 percent — or about 50 cents — per passenger, according to Airlines for America.

You could drive somewhere for the holiday, but the roads probably will be packed too at certain times. Next week, the Automobile Club of America is expected to release its Thanksgiving holiday travel forecast.

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