When a blizzard the size of this week's arrives on the scene, air travel is going to suffer. But Nate Silver points out something else that's contributing to the slow recovery: airlines are flying with more passengers these days. Through September, "load factors on domestic flights—essentially the percentage of available seats that they filled—ran at 82%, the highest figure since the Department of Transportation began tracking the statistic," writes Silver at his FiveThirtyEight blog. That's up from 70% a decade ago.
It matters because at the 70% figure, "there are 2.3 passengers for every available seat, which means, roughly speaking, that one day’s worth of cancellations might take two days to clear through the system," writes Silver. At 80%, figure about four or five days to get all the passengers home.
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