Fewer flying this summer - but expect full planes

Airline travel will decline by 7% - or 14 million passengers - this summer, industry trade organization says.

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By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The skies will be considerably less crowded this summer, with the Air Transport Association projecting a 7% decline in air travel compared to last year.

The industry group, which represents U.S.-based airlines, said on Friday that there will be 14 million fewer airline passengers traveling over the summer.

Some 195 million people are expected to fly in the months of June, July and August, compared to 209 million during that three-month period in 2008, the ATA projected.

"The main driver behind the anticipated drop in passengers traveling this summer is the ongoing global recession, which continues to crimp demand," said ATA president James May, in a prepared statement.

But don't expect planes to be empty. The airlines have been cutting capacity - scaling back their least fuel-efficient flights - to make up for the ongoing decline in passengers. As a result, May said that planes will "remain near full" despite the projected drop in passengers.

Michael Derchin, airline analyst for FTN Midwest Securities, said this is actually a great time to fly for consumers because the airports will be less crowded and fares are dropping by up to 10% this year.

"This is as good as it will get for the consumer, if you have the money," said Derchin, noting that many people have lost their jobs and are therefore unable to take advantage of the low prices.

In spite of the declining fares, Derchin said the airline industry is expected to generate a $1 billion profit this year, largely because of capacity cuts, the decline in fuel prices, and additional fees for checking bags and other services that once came free.

"If they didn't have those ancillary fees, they wouldn't have made money this year," he said. To top of page

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