Thanksgiving air travel projected to fall-ATA

NEW YORK Wed Nov 12, 2008 4:44pm EST

NEW YORK Nov 12 (Reuters) - The number of passengers traveling with U.S. airlines over the Thanksgiving holiday period will drop about 10 percent from last year as a weak economy hits consumer spending and carriers cut back flights.

Thanksgiving remains the busiest travel time for U.S. airlines, but the 2008 season will see a decline in passengers for the first time in seven years, according to the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), the trade body for the leading U.S. airlines.

The ATA said on Wednesday the number of passengers will drop from about 26 million to roughly 24 million over the 12-day Thanksgiving travel season from Nov. 21 through Dec. 2.

Thanksgiving itself is celebrated on Nov. 27 this year.

The trade association expects the three busiest travel days will be Sunday, Nov. 30; Monday, Dec. 1, and Wednesday, Nov. 26, respectively. Planes are projected to average close to 90 percent full on these days.

ATA Chief Executive James May said the weaker economy is hurting consumer spending and airlines have cut back their schedules in response to economic pressures.

This could help ease congestion. "With fewer flights operating, that should provide some relief to the air traffic management system," said May.

"Make no mistake -- the airports will be busy and many flights will be 100 percent full," added May.

The ATA said it is hoping the U.S. Government will once again open up military airspace to help further ease congestion. (Reporting by Mark McSherry; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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