Major airlines are stuffing more people onto fewer flights, according to data released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Airlines carried about 600,000 passengers more in the first quarter of 2006 than in the same time period in 2005 – using about 100,000 fewer flights.

Overall numbers: 176.1 million passengers flew between January 2006 and March 2006 versus 175.5 million in 2005. That’s a .3 percent increase.

They were carried on 2.56 million flights in 2006, a drop from 2.66 in 2005’s first quarter. That’s a 4.1 percent drop.

The Wall Street Journal’s airline coverage has been documenting the causes behind this stuff for months, so today’s news shouldn’t come as a surprise. Earlier this month, the WSJ reported that the country’s six largest airlines “are putting far fewer planes in the sky these days, streamlining their fleets and pushing up prices where they can. New statistics for 2005 show those airlines had a combined mainline operating fleet of 2,747 aircraft, down 21% from the 3,469 they had at the end of 2000, according to the Air Transport Association.”

And as an aside, if you were wondering (we’ve been debating this in the office): Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the busiest in the country. The Delta hub saw 9.6 million passengers hop flights in the first three months of 2006, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was a distant second with 8.1 million.


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