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United sees cancellations rise after storms

CHICAGO (AP) -- United Airlines said Monday that its flying capacity shrank in March, in part because late-winter storms hit some of its key airports.

The rate of flight cancellations doubled to 1.3 percent in March, up from 0.6 percent a year earlier.

In part because of the storms, United's flying capacity shrank by 4.6 percent in March. That also included a cut of 10.9 percent in flights to Europe, where airlines have been pulling back because of the economic slowdown there.

The lower capacity actually boosted a key revenue metric. United said passenger revenue for the month rose an estimated 6.5 to 7.5 percent. That often happens with weather cancellations, because passengers from the canceled flights are put on a different plane, boosting per-seat revenue on the flights that remain. Occupancy rose 2.9 percentage points to 84.4 percent.

March traffic — one paying passenger flown one mile — fell 1.2 percent. Domestic traffic fell 2.9 percent, while international traffic was down 0.5 percent.

For the first three months of the year, United traffic fell 1.2 percent, with capacity down 4.9 percent. Occupancy rose 3 percentage points to 81.1 percent.

Shares of United Continental Holdings Inc. rose 78 cents, or 2.7 percent, to close at $30.05.