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October traffic falls 2.4 percent on Southwest

DALLAS (AP) -- Southwest Airlines Co. said Wednesday that traffic fell in October but a key revenue measure still rose, indicating higher fares and many full planes.

Southwest reported a 5 percent gain in passenger revenue per mile flown by each seat, a closely watched measure of financial strength in the airline industry. The figure can rise compared with a year earlier if fares go higher and the airline sells a higher percentage of its seats.

Dallas-based Southwest carries more U.S. passengers than any airline, and analysts say it can determine whether a price increase sticks. Last month United Airlines rolled back an increase when others, notably Southwest, didn't go along. Then Southwest changed its mind and revived the price hike, which was quickly matched by other carriers.

Southwest officials said they've been raising prices to keep up with increasing costs.

Traffic, however, fell 2.4 percent last month. Paying passengers flew 8.5 billion miles on Southwest and its AirTran Airways subsidiary, compared with 8.7 billion miles in October 2011.

Southwest and AirTran shrunk passenger-carrying capacity by 1.6 percent to adjust to lower demand.

That resulted in average occupancy of 80.7 percent, down from 81.4 percent a year ago but high by Southwest's historical standards.

Through October, 2012 traffic on Southwest and AirTran combined was down 1 percent, capacity was down 0.4 percent, and the average flight was 80.5 percent full compared with 81 percent in the same period of 2011.

Shares of Southwest fell 14 cents to close at $9.01.