Compared to 2007, one million fewer U.S. travelers will fly during this year's Labor Day holiday.
That's the prediction of the Air Transport Association (ATA), a trade group representing U.S. airlines.
Those million non-flyers amount to an overall decrease of 5.7 percent, which in turn breaks down into 6.5 percent fewer domestic passengers but 1 percent more international flyers.
So much for the numbers. The key question for flyers concerns the actual travel experience: Can they expect a less claustrophobic, less stressful trip this summer?
The ATA is quick to reassure travelers, claiming "We expect airplanes to be less full and skies to be less crowded this Labor Day holiday."
Don't believe it. While a 6.5 percent drop in passengers is significant, it should be remembered that most airlines have been making significant cuts in their domestic flights as well. The airlines' load factors may fall slightly, from the mid 80s to the lower 80s. But planes will still be packed. On popular routes, flights will run full. Boarding and deplaning will be slow. Stowage space will be at a premium. Empty middle seats? Nope.
This year will feel very much like last year. Which isn't good.
If I were flying this Labor Day—and thankfully I'm not—I would do one thing differently this year. With the new fees for checked bags, more flyers than ever will probably be opting to carry more bags than ever onto the plane. I'd check my bag, and consider the fee a small price to pay to avoid the hassle of fighting for overhead bin space on a crammed-full jet.
There is one bright spot in the expected falloff in holiday travel. With fewer flyers in the pipeline, air travelers can look forward to less congestion at the airport, before and after their flights.