American Airlines Forced To Fly Empty Planes Out Of Orange County Airport

In September I wrote that Southwest Airlines had started capping the number of passengers on its flights in and out of Orange County.

Many planes with capacities of 143 (Boeing 737-700) and 175 passengers (Boeing 737-800) were being sold to just 79, 93, and 100 passengers.

Southwest explained this as the result of “the local community[‘s desire] for environmentally responsible air transportation operations,” forcing all airlines to reduce capacity on flights traveling to/from the airport through the end of the year.

Now American Airlines is refusing to fill empty seats with nonrev passengers through end of year in order to comply with the airport’s passenger caps.

Orange County airport hates airline passengers, which is ironic considering that they are an airport.

Noise concerns led to a 1985 settlement restricting operations south of the airport. Planes aren’t as noisy as they used to be – by a lot – but there are limits on late night and early morning departures (8 a.m. on Sundays). Orange County’s Board of Supervisors set annual passenger limits for the airport, and that creates a slot program. And though they now say passenger limits are related to environmental concerns, they reward flying planes with empty seats.

The good news is if you’re flying in and out of Orange County’s John Wayne Airport you may have a very good chance of an empty middle seat next to you.

However we should be screaming this from the rooftops: flying planes with empty seats is not better for the environment. In fact, it’s worse. The plane is still flying, and people also have to get places through other means.

And this does not even reduce aircraft noise, since the planes are still flying – just with fewer people on board.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have not been able to book an American Airlines ticket in or out of SNA since December 13, 2023. It looks like the AA flights are bookable starting January 1so the article must be correct about AA hitting some sort of pre-determined passenger cap for the year. Unfortunately, I’ll have to take a 45 minute uber to LAX if I want to take American to my sisters wedding in Cleveland this week.

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