U.S. airline traffic posts rare annual decline

As major airlines finish releasing their annual numbers, one trend has become clear: After five straight years of gains, overall U.S. airline traffic fell in 2008. The 2.3% decline among the seven largest carriers marks only the fifth such drop in 35 years of record keeping, though analysts say traffic will likely decline again in 2009 as airlines continue to reduce capacity. Despite the sliding traffic numbers, the big U.S. carriers should post profits of about $5 billion in 2009, according to an analyst with FTN Midwest Securities.

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