They may not be able to get you out of the middle seat, but the heads of two major airlines speaking at the Professional Convention Management Association annual meeting in New Orleans in January told meeting planners that they want to help you get your attendees to your next meeting.

In a frank discussion on the state of the airline industry, Larry Kellner and Montie Brewer, who head up Continental Airlines and Air Canada, respectively, said they want to improve communications with meeting planners. “We have a group dedicated to the meeting business,” said Kellner. “It's important that you tell us what you need so we can try to accommodate you.”

Kellner was referring to Continental's Meeting Works Group, which works directly with meeting planners to schedule enough flights into the meeting destination. “We started doing it for the Super Bowl,” said Kellner, then started tracking large meetings and adding capacity accordingly in those destinations.

Air Canada also encourages communication from meeting planners. “If you've got lots of people coming to a city, let us know. We want to work with you,” said Brewer. They also encourage planners to provide attendee e-mail addresses, if possible, so they can send updates or flight delay information directly.

One thing they didn't see changing anytime soon is capacity. It may decrease slightly in 2009, but that middle seat likely will be filled. “We don't want to fly empty seats,” said Brewer.

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