Continental Airlines this week thanked Iowa for its business, half a year after the carrier began serving the Des Moines International Airport, and just a week after announcing a sharing agreement with Northwest and Delta. Continental C-E-O Larry Kellner says the airline’s averaged barely half-full jets on the routes it has flown so far. Kellner says that’s pretty typical for a new route, and despite strong demand during summer vacation season, November and December, Continental’s averaged a 40-percent “load factor,” 4 out of ten seats full on each flight, which puts them in a pretty tough spot financially. The good news, Kellner says, is that Houston and New York are great places to connect for a trip somewhere else, so people take the airline’s flights on their way to further destinations like Mexico and Florida. Kellner says he’s never seen a more unpredictable time in the industry. Kellner says most of his view has to be longterm, a year or two out or more, and he’s as worried as can be about oil and the situation in Iraq, though he says by summertime if people want to travel, ticket prices will be stable. The tough thing will be to see how long the war is and what it does to oil prices, and Kellner compares the Afghanistan war a year ago when there was surprisingly little dropoff in air travel, and the Gulf War in 1991 when international air travel went way down but there was very little dropoff in domestic traffic. The CEO announced a fare sale through early March and gave ten round-trip Continental tickets to the Greater Des Moines Foundation, and took questions, and occasional praise, from travel agents who attended from around central Iowa.
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