New Airport Runways Open But Where Are the Passengers?

ABC's Lisa Stark reports from Washington:

Airline passengers today got a holiday gift from the federal government -- three brand new runways. The new runways at Washington Dulles, Chicago O'Hare and Seattle-Tacoma International officially opened today, just in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas rush. The Department of Transportation says the new strips will accommodate an extra 330,000 take-offs and landings each year.

That's the good news.  The bad news might just be the timing.  Airlines -- like the rest of us -- are facing a tanking economy.  It means everyone –- from businesses to families –- is taking a hard look at that travel budget and often choosing to stay home. The International Air Transport Association says premium travel, first or business class tickets, plummeted 8% in September from the year before. Economy travel was down too, by 4%. Since then the economy has only gotten worse.

Airlines had hoped to be able to charge top dollar for tickets this fall. They had reduced flights 10 to 12% after a summer of record fuel costs, figuring reduced flights and high demand would lead to higher prices. But now with demand on the decline, airlines are stepping up the bargains, even offering deals during peak holiday travel days.

Some say if the economy continues on its downward spiral, airlines may cut another 5% of flights from their schedules next year.

So while there's little question that new runways are always welcome, and often desperately needed, there arriving at a time when Americans may be more likely to to take to the road than these runway to the skies.

More on the new runways:

*At O’Hare, the nation’s second busiest airport, this is the first new runway since 1971. The FAA says it will slightly reduce delays there, delays that can ripple throughout the country.

*Seattle's new runway took nearly two decades to get built. There was lots of local opposition, as well as environmental reviews. In the past, when visibility was bad the airport couldn’t land planes at both runways because they were too close to each other.  Now with the new runway they can keep up a steady stream of landings even in bad weather.

*The new pavement at Dulles, how much it gets used will depend on the growth of passenger demand.

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