"The nice way to look at all this is, the more effectively airlines can fill their seats and generate revenue with the seats they have, the better it is for all of us," aviation consultant Samuel Engel told Marketplace in 2015. Southwest puts an even sunnier gloss on the practice, saying it "creates booking opportunities for Customers who really want or need to be on a flight that is showing full but likely to depart with available seats."
As it turns out, however, America's commercial airlines are currently enjoying near-record profits. Here's the data from the International Air Transit Association, an airline trade group.
According to the IATA North American airlines have raked in over $20 billion in profits for each of the past two years. They expect that number to dip, slightly, to around $19.5 billion next year. "2017 is expected to be the eighth year in a row of aggregate airline profitability, illustrating the resilience to shocks that have been built into the industry structure," the IATA writes in its annual analysis.
Among the world's air carriers, North American companies stand out for their profitability. The $20.3 billion in profits American carriers earned last year is greater than the sum total of profits generated by airlines in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa -- combined. The profit margin in North America is around 8.5 percent, or about $19.85 per passenger.