By Micheline Maynard / Friday, June 27, 2008
DETROIT: Buffeted by soaring oil prices and spare capacity, U.S. airlines are planning deeper cuts in domestic and international routes, a shift that may whittle the industry to a scale last seen in 2002, when travel fell sharply after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The downsizing of the U.S. airline industry is unlikely to be reversed anytime soon, and whether it will spread beyond the United States is still uncertain.
U.S. carriers are selling off hundreds of older, less-efficient planes, so the industry is unlikely to grow sharply again, even if oil prices - which climbed Friday briefly to another record above $142 a barrel - were to drop and the economy were to rebound.
Passengers flying within the United States need to begin preparing for some significant cuts to airline fleets and schedules that will begin taking effect within a few months.
U.S. airports of every size - from LaGuardia in New York to Oakland in California - will also be affected as airlines reduce flights and eliminate service altogether.
Cuts also are taking place on international routes, affecting cities from London to Buenos Aires, as well as U.S. destinations popular with travelers from around the world, like Honolulu and Orlando, Florida.
By year's end, approximately 100 U.S. communities will lose regular commercial air service, a number that may double next year, according to the Air Transport Association, or ATA, the industry trade group.
At least one major carrier could liquidate, ATA has warned, on top of eight small airlines that have gone out of business or filed for bankruptcy protection this year.