Carriers must fight the uphill battle of persuading people to fork over cash for vacations at a time when job losses mount and personal investments like homes and retirement plans shed value.

"Everybody is wondering if there's another shoe to drop," said Rick Seaney, chief executive of air fare research site Farecompare.com.

Seaney said that while there is no reliable way to gauge forward airline bookings, evidence suggests a gloomy outlook for leisure travel this year.

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