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Half-empty flights - is anyone else noticing this?

We leave in 3 weeks for Paris and both of our transatlantic flights, Chicago to Paris and Paris to Newark, are about half-empty. There are dozens of empty seats in economy. I assume these will fill up between now and April 19-26, but I've never seen planes this empty this close to my departure date. Is this occurring on the flights of anyone else who's going to Europe (or coming to the U.S.) in about a month? I'm wondering if it has to do with the events in Brussels, if people are canceling trips or changing their itineraries.

Posted by
16165 posts

My question would be, "Are ticket prices dropping?"

Posted by
7205 posts

I would guess it has EVERYTHING to do with terrorism scaring tourists away. I don't like terrorists or terrorism or people getting hurt/killed - but I'm glad to see these scoundrel airlines suffer! After years of stuffing us into smaller and smaller seats and charging for practically everything except oxygen...they deserve what they get.

Posted by
1970 posts

Yep - I'm flying from Dallas to CDG on American next Tuesday and there's 79 empty seats in coach. I'm sure some of that will full up...I think. It seems like a lot of empty seats.

Posted by
2915 posts

Maybe people who didn't pay for a seat assignment are waiting for theirs to be assigned when they check in.

Posted by
925 posts

Airline seat maps are often poor indicators of the actual load--I believe your assumption that the map will fill before your trip will be borne out.

Posted by
1970 posts

For my test-case seat count, I pretended to be a new customer, buying a ticket from Dallas to CDG. When I got to seat selection, it offered me 79 seats in coach to choose from. I'm going to spend the next 6 days hoping that whole open row to my left stays open:)

Posted by
7947 posts

Just flew from Seattle to Frankfurt via Iceland 2 weeks ago. Plane was almost full. Though I had seats picked out 2 months ago, I changed them a day before the flight and was able to get an aisle and window seat with an empty seat in between my daughter and me. This is why people wait until the last minute to pick seats. :-)

Edit: On Icelandic Air, you get to pick your seats for free and may also check 2 suitcases.

Posted by
4380 posts

Did you have to pay for your seat assignment? I bet nearly 79 people chose not to pay extra, but select seats for free 24 hours prior.

Posted by
6570 posts

In times of turmoil, sometimes traveling to Europe is less crowded and more pleasurable. We just prefer to stay out of certain cities and countries--and minimize any risks of problems.
We went to the Hofbrauhaus on Saturday night the week before the first Iraq Gulf War and we were the only Americans in the place.

Posted by
16165 posts

Just checked United RT Chicago-Paris is $1400 leaving next week for 2 week trip. Coincidently, the price for travel the other way on the exact same dates is $1170. Nothing is changed AFAIK.

Posted by
1767 posts

The seat map is a very poor indicator of the number of seats sold on a plane. I have been on planes where they were begging for volunteers to bump that had empty seat maps days before. There are a lot of reasons for this

  1. Airlines now charge for a lot of seats and a LOT of people prefer to roll the dice and try for a free assignment 24 hours in advance. (and then act out when they don't like the options :) )
  2. Some people honestly don't know to select their seat.
  3. If there are any TA groups on your flight then they probably didn't select their seats. The tour groups negotiate deals with the airlines and often don't bother to book seats for their guests (or victims :) ) 4 Your business travelers have jus now started booking!
Posted by
5366 posts

Having travelled consistently over the last 15 years, I think it is a valid observation that flights are not as packed, but don't think your flight will be half empty and I do not think events in Europe are the main reasons.

Back a few years ago flights were routinely overbooked as a result of cost saving measures, the main one being cutting flights, moving demand to fewer options. Now that fuel costs are down and things look better, I suspect the airlines are adding back flights, relieving the overbooking.

Much like others have said on here already, I flew to Spain last month, much the same scenario, the flight showed many unassigned seats nearly up to departure, but on takeoff the plane was nearly full, maybe less than a dozen empty seats, but a few years ago, those seats would have been filled and a few people bumped from the flight.

Posted by
10048 posts

Travel to Europe did drop off a little after the Paris bombings and tourism officials are expecting the same after the events in Brussels.

Hotel chains are predicting a drop in occupancy in Europe this summer due to these events. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, they believe it will be mostly Americans.

Travel planners in the U.S. are seeing a slight decrease in people's interest of Europe and more of an interest in Asia and South America.

On a side note, I leave for an extended trip to Europe in a little over two weeks. Since the Brussels bombing, some friends have asked if I shouldn't consider going somewhere else. None of these people were travelers. I think those of us who travel know that the odds of something happening where we are, and then happening to us, are more remote than something happening to us on the drive to the airport.

Oh....and I too mostly travel "up front" but don't feel the need to laud it over people.

Posted by
2716 posts

Frank II, you are so right. Those who really DO travel first class have the class not to brag about it! Bad form. Those who are only pretending to be wealthy, however, always brag.

We are traveling to England in a month, and just booked our tickets two weeks ago. We had no trouble getting what we thought were bargain priced tickets. Had our choice of seats. I am thinking those two things mean our flight is not going to be full.

Posted by
1437 posts

I flew Air France last week, and if I go by this recent experience, two factors may be at play to explain this:

Since you`re flying through CDG, you may be seeing the effects of people avoiding routing that way because of the recent and still-coming strike actions (air controller, ground crews, etc.). So your flight may indeed have some empty seats when you go.

You may also see what happened to me: the complete inability (!) to book my seats ahead of time for one of my flight segments. So your flight may indeed be as full as mine was.

Posted by
1767 posts

"Hotel chains are predicting a drop in occupancy in Europe this summer due to these events. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, they believe it will be mostly Americans."

I am stalking for some price drops in London in late May. So far it's not happening :)

(And as someone who does sit up front on Delta about half of them are probably employees, another 40% using miles or some upgrades and 10% actually paying for those seats. I have paid for a few but only when I can get a DEAL. I am flying Business to London simply because I found a sale that was about $200 more the coach! No brainer! While I feel safer in Europe than at home I don't think the location of my seat on the plane has anything to do with it unless the fact I get a little sleep might keep from looking the wrong way when I cross a British street and getting hit by a black cab)

Posted by
5689 posts

Just checked my flight to CDG (one week from today!) and the seating chart shows about 75% available seats. I will update when we actually board. I once flew on a 747 days after a 747 crash and got an entire row to myself (got to lie flat!)

Posted by
1970 posts

@Laura - My flight now only shows 62 empty seats of 194 in coach. DFW-CDG. I'm jealous and hoping for a whole row. I think we're flying the same day into CDG.

Posted by
31303 posts

It occurred to me that more empty seats might mean cheaper prices, but that doesn't appear to be the case. I was pricing some flights last night and it's still going to cost about $3K for return premium economy. That was only one airline, so I'll be looking at others to see if I can find a better deal.

Posted by
12400 posts

If indications reveal more of an interest in Asia, that is understandable. The tourists can count on feeling safe in China. Yes, it's no democracy but a police state, a single party political state, and you'll see uniformed police everywhere as you're exploring Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, etc.

Posted by
8954 posts

you'll see uniformed police everywhere as you're exploring Beijing,
Shanghai, Xian, etc.

That's not my experience in multiple trips to China. In Beijing apart from the area around Tiaman Square/Forbidden City I have never seen any police presence anywhere else in the city. Same deal in Xian and Harbin.

Also China is no stranger to terrorist activity:

http://tinyurl.com/z2g2lms

http://www.scmp.com/topics/tiananmen-square-terror-attack

Also lets not forget about his attack in Jakarta earlier this year:

http://tinyurl.com/zv6cduv

Posted by
12400 posts

Well, you could look at that event in NW China in Sinkiang as a terrorist act. Compare the number of tourists going there to the major cities, Nanjing, Shanghai, West Lake, etc. The Chinese themselves don't look at that part of the country as real China, obviously for reasons not complimentary to them but they don't care how such a view is received by foreigners. If the police presence wasn't as prevalent as your travels there suggest, others may have a different view since I was told one could not help but notice them. But that was in the late 1990s.

Posted by
31303 posts

I've never been to China but have noticed on quite a number of news reports that the Police in China may not necessarily be in uniform. Whenever there's some kind of event happening (ie: a demonstration), plain clothes officers seem to come out of the woodwork at the slightest hint of trouble. I suspect there are a lot more police around than the average tourist sees.

Posted by
2703 posts

Sorry. I have no idea what you're all talking about, as we use our private 747 to travel to Europe.

Posted by
1976 posts

I hear you, Paul. Our private plane is being repaired. We had the option of flying to Paris with the Kardashians on their jet, but I'm in a fight with Kim.

I forgot to mention our airline is United and there's no charge to select seats. I've had other itineraries where the seat map slowly filled as time went on, and by the day of our trip it was full and surprise surprise, the airline overbooked. We're keeping our fingers crossed that the map reflects reality!

Posted by
3164 posts

Re Undercover police: someone I heard speak a long time ago once said, " that's the thing about secret police; they're secret."
Oh, and by the way, I checked our mid-May flight from CDG to SFO ; and there are really a lot of apparently open seats. I don't want to tell on which airline, because I have great hopes that we'll be able to snag extra seats in which to spread out. Lol and happy travels everyone.

Posted by
1970 posts

My DFW - CDG flight still has about 65-70 empty coach seats for my flight on the 5th of April. I'll try to post from the plane on Tuesday as to actual empty seats.

Posted by
1976 posts

Valerie, I like your idea of posting from the plane. I check my itinerary once a week and will keep track of the open seats, and then of course see how full the flight is on the day we leave.

Posted by
12400 posts

Very true about the plain clothes police in China. Anything out of the ordinary they appear and swoop down coming from nowhere. That's the impression one gets, which I am sure is one they want to create.

Posted by
7947 posts

To add to the empty airplane discussion. I go to the airport on a regular basis, usually 4-5 times a week so I know what it always looks like. Yesterday afternoon at 16:30, walking through the main terminal, the quietness was spooky. All of the Lufthansa counters were empty, there were no crowds, except at the Air China area. If you have ever been to Frankfurt airport, you know what a busy, busy place this is. It sure isn't now. I have never seen it look like this.
Has anyone else been in any airports lately that look like this? Keep in mind that Frankfurt is the 12th busiest airport in the world and to have it be empty says something profoundly sad.

Posted by
8954 posts

".....That's the impression one gets, which I am sure is one they want to create..,."

I highly encourage you to travel to China. Best not offer expertise of a country you have no first hand experience.

Posted by
12400 posts

Not as yet, but better do the reading first before going, a good deal of it.

Posted by
31303 posts

Ms. Jo,

Wow, that's very surprising! FRA is usually a hive of activity and I can't imagine being that quiet. It's still early in the season so hopefully things will get back to normal soon.

Posted by
1804 posts

No airline would willingly let a plane fly with even one empty seat. My experience these days is they are always full to the rafters, with people trying to standby onto them. Max out that investment.

And sadly, every time they make travel more unpleasant, they discover that we keep flying. Shame on them.

Posted by
1976 posts

I hear you, phred. How cool would it be if we as consumers could boycott the airlines even for one day, to show that their treatment of us is unacceptable!

Today I checked my flight itinerary and noted that the ORD-CDG flight has 40 empty coach seats and 89 empty economy plus seats.

The CDG-EWR flight has 77 empty coach seats and 33 empty economy plus seats.

We leave 2 weeks from tomorrow.

Posted by
1767 posts

Unless your job requires travel you can boycott the airlines. And as long as you continue to buy they see no real incentive to change.,

That said, airlines that have done what we say we wanted have found it actually not very profitable. Remember AA's "more room in coach" Apparently the market studies said people would pay for comfort, but when push came to shove... "well the other airline is cheaper" was the motive and we booked on cheaper. American put in more seats and lowered prices.

Yes, I know airfares are up, but realistically they see no reason to charge less if we buy at current prices. I still think it's worth it so I pay :)

Posted by
5689 posts

As promised, status report on SFO-CDG flight April 5 -- I estimated 20 passengers in economy. TWENTY! Everyone could have a 3-seat row to himself, so most people slept lying down (OK, not as good as the beds in First Class but an amazing experience.) Flight attendant said he had never seen a flight like this.

Posted by
1952 posts

Thanks for the info, Laura. Have a great trip! Flew through Rome last Thursday. Airport was packed and security was tight, tight, tight. We went through two separate security checks before boarding our flight to Atlanta plus extra special screenings for passengers coming in from other airports (i.e., not originating in Rome-we flew in from Catania, Sicily). So much additional time, we missed our connection from Atlanta to Denver. It wasn't that much of an issue as Delta made sure we were standby status for the next (and last flight) out-and made it home only an hour later than originally planned.

Posted by
2915 posts

Wow Laura that's shocking. Thanks for the update. Have a great rest of your trip!

Posted by
7996 posts

That's fantastic Lauri, lucky you! Must be glad you didn't buy Business/First class after all - lol. This happened to my husband and me in 1989... but never again since. Since then, it's been 2 people per seat.

Posted by
1976 posts

Wow, Laura, that is nuts. When I first read your post, I thought you wrote there were 20 empty seats. Okay, well, at least that provides a little bit of space... Then I read it again and I was like, TWENTY PASSENGERS? WHAT???

I have to resist checking my itinerary every day because I don't want to be disappointed and find that all those empty seats are now taken!

Posted by
1767 posts

I have a friend leaving tomorrow. She just did online check in and Delta wants her to accept a bump because they appear to be oversold! Seat map shows 5 empty seats..... YMMV but at least out of Atlanta things still look busy!

Posted by
12400 posts

Normally in planning for a trip, I book the flight 5-6 months in advance, or at least i am monitoring the flights weekly or so. This time I am leaving the 3rd week in May. That was the original intent all along. But i could not bring myself to look or book the flight until exactly two months prior when it finally dawned on me that I had better do something or just call the whole venture off. Booking the flight two months prior to departure SFO to FRA on Lufthansa was about the same as last year, ca $1500 plus including taxes, r/t, even this trip is 5 weeks in contrast to the three week one last May/June. Going with United was a few $ more. Bottom line, the price did not drop but also did not increase with the same variables.

Posted by
1970 posts

@Laura B - having spent that same night as you, sitting up and pretzeled into my coach seat, I cannot adequately convey my jealousy.

Posted by
3469 posts

Still looking at booking. I had to move my next trip out from June to September and had not bought a ticket yet. I am noticing that the September flights (same airline, same cities) round trip are much more affordable in the past week than they were when I first moved my trip and began looking. I can actually get full 1st class to Europe for less than what my airline is charging for business! Coming back is another story and those 1st class prices have doubled. It looks as if I missed my opportunity to fly 1st. Here I come, steerage class. :-)

Posted by
2262 posts

FWIW, Philly to Heathrow 3/30 and Dublin back to Philly 4/12, on American (previously these were US Air flights), I did not count but I would guess that the main cabin was 60-75% both ways. Had I known I would have had us take seats far in the back in the middle so we could have had rows of 4 to ourselves (as these were booked on US Air before the conversion, there was no charge for seat selections that ran about $70 per seat per leg once this made it to the American website.

Posted by
3164 posts

We flew from SFO to FRA a few days ago, on our way to Vienna. That flight appeared quite full to me. The FRA to VIE leg was full, as the airline personnel told us in their announcement about limiting carry-ons.

Posted by
1976 posts

Update to my original post: Our flight from Chicago to Paris had about 70 empty seats in coach. Each passenger could have had a row to themselves, but some (couples, I assume) stayed together in their row. The middle seat between me and my sister was open, and she moved to an open row when we wanted to sleep so we could lay down! I've never experienced a flight like that. It was amazing. Despite the sardine can-sized seats, it felt like there was so much room on the plane because so many seats were free.