'Tis the season for airlines to fill some seats

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WASHINGTON -- The winter holidays might bring some cheer to airlines, but it doesn't look like they will bring much.

Load factors are rising, but that's mostly because airlines have cut capacity to cope with reduced demand.

The Air Transport Association said it is expecting a 16% to 17% drop in U.S. airline traffic for the three weeks surrounding the winter holidays, compared with last year.

With the cuts in airline capacity, planes are expected to be more than 80% full on most of the peak days of Dec. 20 to 22 and Dec. 26 to 28.

At American, chairman Don Carty told employees the airline's bookings through the holidays and into early January look "promising," though the airline is losing millions of dollars each day because of its reduced schedule and the "incredibly low prices" it must offer to fill seats, Carty said.

United said holiday bookings seemed to be down a bit so far, although a spokesman noted this year's Thanksgiving holiday traffic got a boost from an unusual number of late bookings.

Delta also is down a bit, a spokeswoman said, but she added the numbers are improving each day.

At Southwest, a spokeswoman said the airline has been encouraged by recent bookings but still expects lower numbers than last year. She said Southwest continues working to assure potential travelers who are "on the fence" that they can fly safely and conveniently.

Get More!
We'll also be examining how the holiday season is affecting retailers in the Dec. 24 issue of Travel Weekly.

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