Why Airlines Might Abandon Your City

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Something else to consider: Does your city subsidize an airline to help drive down overall prices? Wichita, Kan., did; the lucky recipient was airTran. Then Wichita decided not to subsidize airTran. AirTran left. There's a moral there, but maybe the citizens of Wichita are happy with their decision.

Finally, here's where jet fuel comes in with a vengeance: What aircraft does the airline(s) servicing your city fly? If it's not fuel efficient enough, or the airline can't fill enough seats, they may just park those planes out in the desert, to sit in the sun because that may be a lot cheaper than flying those planes (even if they are full) once oil hits $140 a barrel or more.

By the way, seats are already disappearing. The capacity cutbacks are being felt. I consulted our historical flight schedules to compare U.S. domestic flights on a typical Monday in September 2007 with that same day in September this year; I found that in 2007 that day, there were about 2.6 million seats in planes crisscrossing the United States. But on that day this year, there will only be about 2.5 million seats. That's down about 4 percent, which is the equivalent of 570 daily flights by a 737 jetliner.

The good news is, Virgin America, Southwest and other lower cost carriers (and Continental) have added some seats. The bad news is they have all said they won't be doing so for the foreseeable future and — even worse — Delta and US Airways are dropping more than twice as many seats as Virgin America and Southwest are adding, combined.

I also noticed a trend in the data that you're probably already aware of if you have flown lately: the continued downsizing of domestic flights. Airlines are dumping prop planes and narrow and mid-body planes like 717s, 737s, MD80s, DC-9s, 757s, 767s and Airbus A320s in favor of 50 and 70 seat regional jets (70 being the most popular).

The best advice I can give in these trying times for air travel is to act like a boy scout — and be prepared for every eventuality in air travel, because you're likely to run into a variety of painful situations. We all know by now that when bad things happen with airlines, like route cut-backs, city cut-backs or even complete shut-downs, we, the passengers, seem to get as little notice as possible.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.

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