Slow growth in traffic results in more empty seats on United Airlines flights

IndustriesAssociated Press

Growth in passenger traffic on United Airlines is too slow to keep up with extra flying, resulting in more empty seats.

United failed to keep pace with July traffic gains of 6.6 percent at Southwest and AirTran and 2.8 percent at Delta Air Lines.

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Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc. said Thursday that traffic in July rose 1 percent from a year ago as passengers flew 19.9 billion miles. That includes regional flying under the United Express brand.

The company grew on international routes, especially to Latin America, where traffic jumped 11.7 percent. Domestic traffic fell 0.4 percent, however.

The extra passengers weren't enough to offset a 1.6 percent increase in capacity, which rises when an airline adds flights or uses bigger planes. United increased international capacity.

As a result, the average flight was 86.7 percent full last month — very crowded by historical standards but down from 87.2 percent in July 2013.

In bragging rights, Delta surpassed United in traffic during July, although United remained slightly ahead for the first seven months of 2014. Both carriers trail American Airlines Group Inc., which is the world's biggest airline operator by traffic since the merger with US Airways.