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I almost always seem to be traveling on full flights. So almost never have the luxury to be able to change seats or even rows. Is there any way to find out beforehand if a specific flight is on average not fully booked?

I am looking for an average load factor on a specific route.

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3 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Route-by-route load factors are proprietary information which airlines guard zealously— why inform your competitors about where you're making your money and where there's slack in the system? Indeed, in 2004, now-defunct JetsGo sued WestJet accusing the latter of stealing domestic load factor data, and of using that information to "gain an unfair competitive advantage over Jetsgo and prey upon Jetsgo's business and operations by targeting both profitable and vulnerable routes, flight times and fares."

The best we can do is make guesses on flight-by-flight load factors based on things like available fares. After all, a flight that has plenty of T fares at 21 days out probably isn't that full. Some airlines, like United, offer an "Expert Mode" interface where you can see available booking classes. You could alternatively subscribe to a service like ExpertFlyer, which has the same information for multiple airlines.

I would caution that seat maps are notoriously unreliable guides, as not everyone selects a seat prior to the day of departure. The seat map may be wide open, but that's because it doesn't include the tour group of 24 scheduled to be on that flight.

I would add that steady capacity reductions over the last 5-10 years, enabled by airline mergers and forced by high fuel prices, mean that most flights on network carriers will be very full. As recently as 2005, United would a block middle seat as an unpublished perk for Premier Executives, but I can't tell you the last flight I've been on where the middle seat has been empty, even in Economy Plus.

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Not for free, that I know of. However the pro version of Expert Flyer would seem to show available seats and upgrade spots, for example. From the page:

  • Shows available and occupied seat locations for a particular flight on a particular day for 120+ airlines
  • Shows detailed seat information about Premium, Blocked and Paid seats
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Some airlines will show current seating information on their website without a ticket. For example, American Airlines has a "View Available Seats" function here. This doesn't help you make decisions over a wide ranges of times, or with averages, as you need to enter one flight at a time for a particular date, but if you are considering flying on a particular flight, and want to know how full it is before you purchase, this might be one approach.

Note that it's likely that some seats shown as unavailable are actually available, reserved for frequent flyers, families, etc. If it's marked as available, though, chances are it is.

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