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Summer Forecast: Full Flights, Stressed Flyers

SmarterTravel

In recent years, the summer travel forecast has been mostly a bad-news story of overlong security lines, overcrowded departure areas, and overstuffed planes.

Summer 2015 will be no exception, according to Airlines for America, the trade group representing the interests of U.S. carriers.

Between June 1 and August 31, the group expects U.S. airlines to carry 222 million passengers, the most ever and an increase of 4.5 percent over the same period last year.

Other predictions for summer 2015:

  • 31 million international flyers, also a record
  • Top-five busiest U.S. airports: New York (JFK, La Guardia, Newark), Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago
  • Top-10 international destinations: Cancun, London, Tokyo, Toronto, Paris, Mexico City, Vancouver, Santo Domingo, Montego Bay, Punta Cana

Predictably, A4A spins the outlook in flyer-friendly terms: “With 13 of the 15 busiest air travel days of the year falling in the summer months, U.S. airlines are well-prepared to accommodate the increased travel demand by adding flights and seats, and deploying new and larger aircraft, along with a boost in staffing to enhance the customer experience.”

But the 4.6 percent increase in the number of seats available for sale this year only marginally offsets the 4.5 percent traffic increase. Which means that load factors will be more or less comparable to last year’s. Which means that planes will be flying, on average, around 90 percent full. And on more popular routes, every seat is likely to be occupied.

What can you do to mitigate the discomfort? 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. But mostly, it’s a matter of grinning and keeping your claustrophobia in check.

Reader Reality Check

How do you cope with the summer travel crush?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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