Flying over the holidays? Expect to be crowded

Air Transport Association says air travel will decline 2.5% this holiday season, but planes will still be at capacity.

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By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Passengers will still be packed like sardines into planes this holiday season, despite projections for less-crowded skies.

On Thursday, the Air Transport Association of America released its forecast that 2.5% fewer people will fly during the 21-day holiday season, spanning from Dec. 17 to Jan. 6, compared to last year. But that still leaves 41 million people catching flights.

And they will be crowded into planes, according to the industry group, because airlines have scaled back the number of flights to save money in the face of rising fuel prices and the recession.

"Capacity reductions will likely mean fuller flights on many days," said ATA President James May, in a press release.

The "fragile economy" is the primary culprit for the decline in passengers, according to the ATA. But spokesman David Castelveter noted that the decrease is less dramatic than in the Thanksgiving travel period, which was forecast to fall 4% compared to the prior year. (Results were not immediately available.)

"You're seeing some improvement," he said. "I think these numbers reflect that there is some growing confidence by travelers."

Castelveter added that the moderate decline, combined with the federal government's decision to open military airspace to commercial air travel during the busiest days, will help to relieve congestion in the air.

The busiest travel days during the winter travel season are Dec. 27, 28 and 29, according to the ATA. To top of page

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