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Among those benefiting from low oil prices are airlines. With fuel prices down, profits are up. But that doesn't mean you'll be able to find cheap airfares, especially over the holidays. The airline industry is predicting more people will take to the skies over Thanksgiving than any year since the start of the recession. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper has this holiday season air travel preview.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Oh, the weather outside is not frightful yet here in Chicago, but we know snow and cold is coming, so warm weather destinations for the holidays sound appealing.
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GISELLE SANCHEZ: Mena Tours, American Express. Good afternoon. How may I help you?
SCHAPER: And those are the kinds of inquiries travel agent Giselle Sanchez is fielding.
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SANCHEZ: And when are you planning on traveling?
SCHAPER: After a few very slow years during the recession, Sanchez says, business is really picking up.
SANCHEZ: We are seeing a lot of families wanting to take trips and planning their trips. So we do see more people wanting to travel now. Is it back to where was before? Not yet. But I think it's getting there.
SCHAPER: But that means planes are packed tight. And because demand is rising, fares are up, especially over the two weeks when schools are out over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Thanksgiving weekend fares are higher than last year, too, especially if you want to fly on the Wednesday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The airline industry is expecting 24.6 million passengers on planes around Thanksgiving, up one-and-a-half percent over last year. And a whopping 2.6 million of those will fly on that Sunday.
JOHN HEIMLICH: Sunday is not only expected to be the busiest day of the period, but if last year's an indication, that should be the busiest day of the entire calendar year.
SCHAPER: That's John Heimlich, chief economist for the industry group Airlines for America. In a conference call with reporters this past week, he noted that dropping fuel prices are pushing up profits, with airlines earning more than $2 billion more so far this year than at this time last year. But he says, that doesn't mean we can expect airfares to drop anytime soon.
HEIMLICH: The first priority is to make sure you have strong financial health, can pay down your bills and invest in the future and weather the next recession.
SCHAPER: Back at Mena Travel, Giselle Sanchez is looking to find a bargain around Christmas.
SANCHEZ: You see all these zeros? When you see zeros in all inventory, that means it's a pretty full flight.
SCHAPER: The few seats that are available are too pricey. But Sanchez says, she can still find some low fares...
SANCHEZ: If you're going to South Florida...
SCHAPER: ...Even around Thanksgiving, if you fly on certain days.
SANCHEZ: Still be back to work on Tuesday if it's a really early morning flight. Actually, a nonstop I can get you for about $336.
SCHAPER: That's tempting. I might ask my editor for a couple of days off. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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