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Continental Sees US Traffic Down, International Up In 3Q

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Continental Airlines Inc. (CAL) expects U.S. traffic to fall for the third quarter while international traffic increases. U.S. capacity, or the number of seats, also is expected to decline for the quarter and year while international capacity increases because of the international routes added in 2009 and the restoration of it full schedule to Mexico after a contraction last year related to H1N1 flu virus. Meanwhile, its consolidated load factor--for both mainline and regional operations--is projected at 85% to 86% in the third quarter and 83% to 84% for the year. Load factor is a measure of plane occupancy. Continental said its mainline U.S. advanced booked seat factor is down 0.6 points, but up 0.8 points internationally, for the next six weeks compared with a year earlier. U.S. capacity is seen sliding 1.3% and 0.9% in the third quarter and 2010, respectively, for its mainline operations. On a consolidated basis, U.S. capacity is expected to slide 0.7% for the quarter and 0.5% for the year, while international capacity grows 2.1% and 2.3%, respectively. The nation's No. 4 airline by traffic, which plans to merge with United Airlines parent UAL Corp. (UAUA) this fall, said the estimates do not include possible effects of the planned deal. Early this month, Continental said traffic and capacity edged lower in August from a year earlier, though its plane occupancy rate increased and hit a new high for the month. All three statistics had increased in both June and July as demand continued to pick up from weak levels in early 2009. Last month, the airline reported a higher quarterly profit than expected thanks to improved demand. Its shares closed at $23.79 and were inactive after hours. -By Kathy Shwiff, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2357;

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