The industry group for the nation's airlines said Wednesday that it expects 43.6 million people to travel by air over the Christmas and New Year's holidays.
That's about 3 percent more than last year. ATA says the busiest days will be Dec. 21-23, Dec. 26-30 and Jan. 2-3, based on 2009 patterns. The airlines have added surcharges of $10-$30 on most of those days, anticipating heavier bookings.
ATA says the government will probably open up airspace usually reserved for military aircraft, on an as-needed basis, to ease the air traffic crunch. Fewer flights and the possibility of weather delays are likely to add to congestion at airports and in the air.
"With demand for air travel showing signs of improvement, airlines are hoping to see industry profitability continue into 2011," ATA President and CEO James C. May said in a statement.
The ATA holiday travel forecast came out the same day that executives for major airlines told an investors conference in New York that they were optimistic about demand for holiday travel. Low-cost carrier JetBlue however sounded a warning that it would likely make less money than it previously forecast, because fewer full-fare passengers booked flights than it expected.