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NEW YORK (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 November 21 through December 2.
Thanksgiving itself is celebrated on November 27 this year.
The trade association expects the three busiest travel days will be Sunday, November 30; Monday, December 1, and Wednesday, November 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