A flurry of reports this week reveals just how bad things are for the shrinking U.S. airline industry. Not since 9/11 have there been so few planes in the sky, which means we leisure travelers are in stiff competition for fewer seats, and likely paying more, on average, to fly.

Rick Seaney, the CEO of, thinks the best of the fall sales are over. With airlines cutting capacity, and having sold many fall seats during the recent promotions, planes will be crowded. [AP/Yahoo News]

A perfect economic storm of drop in business travel (the airline industry’s bread and butter), rising fuel costs, and decreased demand are all factors contributing to a grim report released yesterday by the International Air Transport Association that predicts airline losses will reach as high as $11 billion in 2009, with industry revenues for the year are expected to fall 15% to $455 billion.

"The bottom line of this crisis—with combined 2008-2009 losses at $27.8 billion—is larger than the impact of 9/11," says IATA CEO Giovanni Bisignani in a statement. "The global economic storm may be abating, but airlines have not yet found safe harbor."

What does all this mean for the average traveler? Booking fall/winter travel now is essential, especially around holidays. Sign-up for airline email alerts, so if there are deals, you’ll be the first to hear. And finally, be flexible. You may not have a choice.

Adrien Glover is the online deputy editor for Travel + Leisure.