US domestic traffic down 10.4% in 2009 Q1; Southwest grows market share lead over AA

Image: Southwest bell-ringing at the New York Stock Exchange on 18 June
Southwest continues to be the clear leader in domestic air travel. The airline began New York LaGuardia services last week; the launch was preceded by a bell-ringing at the New York Stock Exchange on 18 June – Southwest’s 38th birthday.

Figures from the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) confirm that US domestic air travel has now been in decline for over a year. The last month when growth was recorded was February 2008 which was assisted by the addition of an extra, 29th day. Since then passenger numbers have been in gradual decline – last November being the worst month with demand down 13.3%. January and February also saw a double-digit decline, while March saw a slight improvement possibly helped by the re-timing of Easter back into its more traditional April slot.

Chart: US domestic market
Source: BTS

Tracking passenger demand by operating airline reveals that Southwest continues to be the clear leader in domestic air travel. These figures from BTS reflect only those passengers flown by the airline on its own services, hence the appearance of SkyWest in the rankings. SkyWest operates all of its flights on behalf of other airlines, notably Delta, Midwest and United.

Chart: US domestic market 2008-09
Source: BTS

United and US Airways are in a battle for fourth place in the domestic market with United leading during the summer months and US Airways ahead during last winter.

Chart: US domestic market 2008-09
Source: BTS

In terms of overall market share Southwest achieved its highest ever share of 16.8% in March and continues to ease away from American in second place. Combining the market shares of Delta and Northwest will take them past American but still some way behind Southwest.


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