Passengers Feel the Squeeze at Raleigh-Durham Int'l

Suck in your gut.

Flying in and out of the Triangle this year has been an exercise in squeezing and contorting.

Passenger volume at Raleigh-Durham International Airport during the first six months of the year was about the same as last year. From January to June, 4.55 million flew in or out, compared with 4.59 million during the same period a year ago, according to data from the airport authority.

But during the same time, the size of the planes -- and the number of seats -- have shrunk, meaning the same number of people are squeezing into smaller spaces.

It's a new aspect of the industry. Airlines, in a crunch to make money, are doing all they can to ensure that every plane is full.

The airport authority, which wants to see strong passenger volume, is satisfied with the results so far this year.

"With the conditions in the industry right now, having our passenger numbers stay the same is a good thing," said John Brantley, RDU airport director, in a statement. But he's looking forward to the second half of 2006.

Delta Air Lines started a direct flight to Los Angeles in June. Discount carrier JetBlue began service this month to New York. It will add a Boston flight in October.

Those options could drive more passenger traffic to and from RDU. That's good for the local economy because the more people who come in and out of the region, the greater the likelihood they'll spend money at hotels, restaurants and shops.

RDU now has nine major airlines and 15 regional carriers operating from its gates. There are 224 daily departures to 37 places.

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