NEW YORK — Three of the nation's largest airlines on Monday reported double-digit declines in passengers during December vs. a year ago, but the data provided further evidence the industry is experiencing gradual improvement since September's lows.
Compared with last year, United Airlines' passenger volume for the month declined by 18 percent to 8.22 billion revenue passenger miles, a measure of the number of paying customers that travel one mile.
The Chicago-based carrier's capacity, or the number of available seats, was down almost 20 percent from the previous year. That helped improve the percentage of seats filled at the No. 2 carrier by 1 percentage point to 71 percent compared with last year.
Passenger demand at Delta Air Lines, the third-largest carrier, fell by 10 percent to 5.88 billion revenue passenger miles. Capacity was lower by 7.3 percent, while the percentage of seats filled declined by 2 percentage points.
The Atlanta-based carrier said last month's capacity data were skewed somewhat. In December 2000, capacity was down 2.5 percent from the previous year because of flight cancellations related to severe winter weather and pilots refusing to fly overtime shifts amid labor negotiations.
Northwest Airlines, based in Eagan, Minn., said December traffic decreased by 11 percent to 5.36 billion revenue passenger miles, while capacity fell 12 percent.
Northwest, the fourth-largest carrier, said bad weather and labor disruptions caused its December 2000 capacity to be off by 4 percent.
While passenger demand remains sharply lower from a year ago, the industry has shown month-to-month improvement since bottoming-out in September because of the terrorist attacks.
Passenger levels were down by 32 percent in September, 26 percent in October and 20 percent in November, according to the Air Transport Association, an industry group that compiles data from the nation's largest carriers.
The group will release its December estimate on Thursday, but data released by the carriers show December's passenger volume is likely to be an improvement from the previous month.