Consumers still planning to travel for holidays

Minneapolis business manager Roque Rossetti plans to make his annual trip home to Sao Paulo, Brazil, for Christmas. The 35-year-old said the sagging economy gave him no second thoughts about shelling out $1,200 for the ticket.

“If I wait longer, I'd probably pay more, and I might not end up going,” he said. But, he added, “I'm secure. I don't have kids or a wife. My house is paid for.”

Several carriers have said that advance bookings show their planes are expected to be at least as full as a year ago during the late fall and winter holidays. That's largely because they have taken so many seats out of the air, a decision made when fuel prices were soaring. In fact, travelers who have not booked flights for the holidays could find it more difficult and expensive than usual to find the flights they want, when they want them.

At US Airways – Charlotte's dominant carrier – bookings for November and December so far are down about 2 percent, said Scott Kirby, the airline's president, during a conference call Thursday. But Kirby also said leisure travelers are waiting longer to book flights, and bookings typically pick up as travel dates approach. He expects that pattern to continue during the holidays.

It also may be tougher for ski resorts and sunny vacation destinations to keep their numbers up.

“I think the consumer now has a lot of things on their mind – they're concerned about the economy, they're concerned about the election, but I think they have already made the decision about what they are going to do over Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Arne Haak, chief financial officer of discount carrier AirTran Airways.

Haak said the carrier has not seen a slowdown in bookings over the holidays.

“In fact, Christmas looks very, very good,” he said.

The picture is similar at Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc., an executive said.

Ed Bastian, Delta's chief financial officer, said most consumers are still trying to figure out what the crisis means to them. Bastian said Delta's domestic advance holiday bookings show stronger occupancy rates on a year-over-year basis and are in line with the carrier's expectations. He noted capacity cuts may play a role

A big change may be that people want better deals.

During a recent stop at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Georgeann Becker, 60, an attorney from a suburb of Denver, said she and her husband paid for a plane ticket for their daughter to fly home from New York this Christmas. Her daughter shopped the online travel sites and found a cheaper ticket than their travel agent, around $350.

Staff writer Jefferson George and AP Business Writers Joshua Freed in Minneapolis and Catherine Tsai in Denver contributed to this report.