Thursday, February 12, 2009

January US Airline Agency Sales off 25% - demand plumets faster than airlines can remove capacity

The Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) has posted January US travel agency sales and the numbers are, in a word, shocking.

A bit of background first. ARC is a company owned by the major US airlines that facilitates payments between the airlines and all travel agencies (including OTAs such as Expedia et al). If a ticket was bought at a travel agency in the US, the revenues flow through ARC. Airlines' sales outside the US, as well as their own (e.g., etc) revenues do not flow through ARC. Roughly 50% of US airline revenue is handled by ARC and it skews heavily towards business travelers.

The raw data is here but year over year, actual ticket sales numbers plunged by nearly 25% while revenues plunged by an even greater amount - nearly 27%. This is one of the first indicators we have of what is to come for the airlines now that the holidays are over and the true recession has set in. Most analysts have pegged capacity reductions at around 10% year over year - revealing a great chasm is opening between demand and capacity.

Indeed, the carriers' worst fears are being realized - demand is falling faster than they can reduce capacity. Things were not supposed to work out this way.

These declines are also telling for the Global Distribution Systems (GDSs) . Galileo, Worldspan (both owned by Travelport), Sabre and Amadeus are no doubt seeing similar declines in airline segments as nearly all of ARC's revenue is delivered by the GDSs. With their heavy debt loads from their privatizations, things may get interesting quickly for Sabre and Travelport.

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