MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this holiday weekend experienced its largest crowds since the Sept. 11 attacks and encountered no major problems.
Airlines increased staffing at security checkpoints, baggage check-in and at ticket counters to handle the crowds, Amy Von Walters, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said Sunday.
She said there were probably fewer people flying this Thanksgiving than in previous years, but that's not surprising since the airport's largest carrier, Northwest Airlines, cut its flight schedule 20 percent after the attacks.
"Although they had less flights, all those flights were extremely full," she said. "Overall, I would say for the week we were down in passenger numbers from last year."
She said that nationally, the Thanksgiving holiday is the busiest of the year, but, in Minneapolis, Christmas is usually heavier.
Northwest spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert said it's hard to compare the airlines' business this weekend to years past because of the flight cuts, which were taken as a cost-saving measure when travel demand fell sharply after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The wait Sunday afternoon to check baggage at Northwest's counter at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport was about 20 minutes and it was taking passengers another 15 minutes to clear security checkpoints, Schubert said.
Terry Trippler, a former travel agent who is now an aviation consultant, said this weekend's success may help boost air travel at Christmas. "It was critical to the airlines that they pull off this Thanksgiving weekend so people would say 'Thanksgiving was all right, so we will fly at Christmastime,"' he said.
Some in the airline industry expected load factors, a measure of seat occupancy by paying customers, to be down a third compared to last Thanksgiving, Trippler said. But he estimates loads were down just 13 percent.
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