updated 5/15/2008 1:23:10 PM ET 2008-05-15T17:23:10

U.S. airlines carried nearly 3 percent more passengers in February compared with the same month last year, but did so while operating fewer flights, the government said Thursday.

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The airlines carried 55.5 million domestic and international passengers in February, a 2.7 percent increase from the previous year, the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics said. But the number of flights dropped by 1.5 percent to 777,600.

Many airlines have raised ticket prices and cut domestic capacity in recent months to help offset jet fuel costs that have risen dramatically compared with last year.

Also in February, domestic and international flights were 75.1 percent full, on average, which was unchanged from the same month last year. Domestic traffic rose by 1.9 percent, while the number of international passengers surged by 8.2 percent.

Domestic low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines Co. carried the most passengers in February with more than 7.7 million, followed by AMR Corp.'s American Airlines at over 7.1 million. But American, with its cadre of international destinations, is still the nation's largest carrier based on revenue passenger miles, an industry metric that represents one paying passenger flown one mile.

Rounding out the top five in passengers carried were Delta Air Lines with more than 5.2 million, UAL Corp.'s United Airlines with 4.7 million and US Airways with about 4.3 million.

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