Nearly 20 Percent of Seats on U.S. Flights Are Empty

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Feb. 6 2014 12:48 PM

Nearly 20 Percent of Seats on U.S. Flights Are Empty

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Plenty of elbow room!

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

It may feel like every flight these days is packed to the gills—and that's certainly the way airlines want it—but nearly 20 percent of seats on American domestic flights go unfilled.

According to newly published numbers from the International Air Transport Association, the passenger-load factor for flights in the U.S. is 83.8 percent. While lower than you may expect, that makes U.S. flights the most crowded in the world. That doesn't mean that 20 percent of seats on every flight are empty, naturally—so next time you fly home for Thanksgiving, don't expect to have any extra elbow room. 

China isn't far behind with a load factor of 80.3 percent; Brazil climbed from 71.8 percent in 2012 to 76 percent in 2013; and Japan reported by far the lowest figure, just 64.3 percent. The global rate for the domestic market is 79.9 percent.

Other news from IATA that is good for the airline industry: Passenger demand climbed 5.2 percent between 2012 and 2013, with especially fast growth in the Middle East and Asia. Unsurprisingly, growth in the developed U.S. and European markets was slower. And there's more good news for airlines: IATA has predicted it will see its biggest profits ever in 2014, largely thanks to growing revenue from those terrible bag fees.

Alex Davies is a transportation reporter for Business Insider. Follow him on Twitter.