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Spring Travel Forecast: More Flyers, Less Comfort

Airlines for America is the organization that is paid to represent the interests of U.S. airlines. So when it forecasts record numbers of passengers traveling this spring, it’s meant to be taken as a compliment to the industry, a positive reflection on the airlines’ ability to deliver air travel at an attractive price. In A4A’s view, “The continued growth in passenger volumes can be attributed to the accessibility and affordability of air travel today. To meet the extra demand, airlines are deploying new and larger aircraft on many routes.”

A4A expects 140 million passengers to fly on U.S. airlines during March and April, an increase of 3 percent over 2015 and the most ever for the two-month period. That’s great for the airlines; the top 10 carriers reported pre-tax earnings of $23.2 billion for 2015, and all signs point to a financially robust 2016 as well.

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For most travelers, however, fuller flights are a downgrade: longer lines and more bodies packed into those ever-shrinking coach-class seats. While the airlines will add some extra capacity to accommodate the increase in passengers, load factors will likely remain in the high-80s.

What can you do to mitigate the double whammy of crammed-full flights and too-tight seats? Short of splurging for a first-class ticket, there’s no magic bullet. Leverage your elite status to upgrade, or cash in miles for premium-cabin flights. Book an aisle seat whenever possible, and fly on carriers like JetBlue that feature an extra smidgen of legroom. Perhaps pay extra to upgrade to economy plus. Fly non-stops, to minimize your seat time. But mostly, it’s a matter of maintaining your composure and keeping your claustrophobia in check.

Happy travels (if that’s not an oxymoron)!

Reader Reality Check

How do you minimize stress and discomfort when flying?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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