U.S. airlines pack passengers in at record rate

Don't expect to find a lot of empty seats on your next flight

U.S. airlines packed passengers onto planes at a record rate in the first eight months of the year.

The percentage of filled seats, known as the load factor, reached 84.1% for domestic and international flights for the period from January through August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The higher load factor means fewer empty seats for last-minute travelers and for fliers hoping to trade in loyalty reward points, said Rick Seaney, founder of the air fare monitoring site Farecompare.com.

Plus, airlines have fewer seats for passengers whose flights are canceled, he said.

That may also explain why complaints against airlines in the first nine months of the year rose from 10,444 to 12,350, an 18.2% increase, according to federal statistics.

The load factor rate exceeded the previous high for the same period in 2013 when the rate was 83.7%, the agency said. The load factor for domestic flights was even higher, 85.3% for the eight-month period, compared with 84.1% last year.

The U.S. airline industry has been reporting record profits this year, partly because carriers have kept a tight rein on capacity while demand for air travel has continued to grow.

U.S. airlines posted a combined $3.6 billion in profits in the period from April through June, a 64% increase over a year earlier, according to federal data.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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