Skies will be more crowded this Thanksgiving

The AAA's forecast for the number of Americans it expects to take to the country's roads during the Thanksgiving holiday won't be out for a few more days. But an airline trade organization says the number of people flying over the holiday will be up slightly from last year.

Airlines for America (A4A), an industry group for leading U.S. airlines, projects 24.6 million passengers will travel globally on U.S. airlines during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period, from Friday, Nov. 21, through Tuesday, Dec. 2.

The busiest travel days are forecast to be the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, as well as Sunday, Nov. 30, and Monday, Dec. 1. This year's figures are an increase of 1.5 percent from 2013's Thanksgiving air travelers.

"An expanding U.S. economy, rising personal incomes, employment growth and lower energy prices are driving growth in demand," A4A vice president and chief economist John Heimlich said in a statement. "There is no better time to fly than now, as airfare remains one of the best consumer bargains in America, given its superior speed and price versus other modes of travel."

But that "consumer bargain" is still more expensive than it was last year, despite lower fuel prices and the billions of dollars of revenue the airlines accumulate through baggage fees and other in-flight extras.

A new Associated Press analysis of airline and travel agency ticket data found that for the 12-month period ending in September, the average cost of a domestic airline ticket in the U.S. rose 3.5 percent to $372.21. And that doesn't include the additional $56 dollars an air traveler has to pay in taxes and fees.

The airlines are also facing higher volumes of complaints while filling planes at a record rate for the first eight months of this year.

A4A reports that during the first nine months of 2014, the nine largest U.S. carriers had net earnings of $6.8 billion, or a net profit margin of 5.7 percent. That's up $4.5 billion compared to last year.

But A4A's Heimlich said the airlines are putting that money back into their businesses.

Added Heimlich: "Improving finances are enabling airlines to add seats to the marketplace and reinvest in the customer experience -- in the cabin, at the airport and online -- at a rate exceeding $1 billion per month."