Trade Group Predicts 51 Million Will Fly U.S. Airlines over the Holidays

The day after Christmas expected to be among the busiest for travelers this season, while New Year's Eve should be among the least hectic.

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Fifty-one million passengers around the world will likely fly on U.S. airlines during the winter holidays, an industry trade group predicted on Wednesday.

The tally from Airlines for America would present a 3.5 percent increase from the 49.3 million estimated to have flow last year during the 21-day period, from Friday, Dec. 15 through Thursday, Jan. 4.

The busiest travel days during the period should be Thursday, Dec. 21, Friday, Dec. 22 and Tuesday, Dec. 26, while the lightest should be Saturday, Dec. 16, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, the group said.

Carriers will make available 91,000 additional seats each day to accommodate the 80,000 additional daily passengers expected to travel over the holidays, said the airline industry organization. Larger planes and additional flights will be put to use, it added.

The growth in demand is the result of an improving economy and airfares that have not kept pace with inflation, said John Heimlich, an economist and vice president at the trade group, in a statement.

Heimlich touted recent data showing fewer incidences of mishandled luggage as among the developments that "bode well for the winter holiday flyer."

Not mentioned in the group's release is a recent computer glitch in an American Airlines system that the carrier's pilots union says may result in thousands of scheduled flights without crews assigned to them. American Airlines has said it was working to address the problem and that the figure from the labor group was exaggerated.