Southwest Airlines boosted its passenger loads in September by more than 11 percentage points from a year earlier, filling 74.7 percent of its seats with paying passengers according to the Dallas Morning News.
The mark represented the highest September load factor in Southwest's 38-year history. Its previous best came in 1996 when the Dallas-based carrier filled 70.6 percent of its seats. In September 2008, Southwest reported average loads of 63.4 percent.
It also marked the second straight month that Southwest had set a monthly record for passenger loads. Its August loads reached 80.2 percent.
An 8.8 percent jump in traffic drove Southwest's higher numbers in September, even as the airline reduced its flying capacity by 7.8 percent from a year earlier.
And, in a surprise, Southwest said Wednesday that its passenger revenue per seat mile flown increased about 3 percent from a year earlier, its first increase in unit revenue since January.
Southwest's gains in loads paced the industry, but eight of the nation's nine largest carriers also reported that they filled a greater percentage of their seats in September.
Airline analyst Michael Derchin of FTN Equity Capital Markets Corp. praised the industry's performance after a long string of disappointing months.
"September was the first month this year that surprised us positively with the largest domestic airline, Southwest Airlines, reporting a 3% increase in unit revenues, significantly better than anticipated," he said in a report.
Derchin said that September results typically are weak, with leisure traffic dominating the first half.
The fact that load factors held up in the second half of the month, largely a business travel period, bodes well for October, one of the strongest business travel months of the year," he said. "A late Labor Day most likely helped leisure demand early in the month."