This holiday air travel season will be the most crowded and expensive in years as airlines pack more people in fewer planes.
The number of Thanksgiving fliers is expected to rise 3.5 percent from last year in what analysts say is a modest post-recession release of pent-up demand.
A group representing major domestic carriers says flights will be 90 percent full during the 12-day Thanksgiving period. Figures for the Christmas rush aren't in yet, but industry watchers say the number of travelers should be up then as well.
The less-than-spacious holiday skies reflect a growing irony. Despite ringing up solid profits in recent months, skittish air carriers remain unwilling to add more flights and seats for holiday travel. After growing for years, airline capacity has dropped back to 1999 levels as a result of the economic downturn.
"We're doing much better" financially this year, said David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents major carriers. "But it's only a modest increase in economic conditions. There is no rush to add more capacity than there is demand."
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