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) -- This is a flush time for airlines; they're entering a busy holiday travel period in the midst of their first profitable fourth quarter in a decade.

About 24 million passengers are expected to fly over the Thanksgiving holiday, up 3.5% from the same period a year earlier, according to the Air Transport Association. Daily passenger volumes will range from 1.3 million to 2.5 million, with Sunday, Nov. 28 and Monday, Nov. 29 the two busiest days in the 12-day travel period.

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a hub for



, travel is expected to be up 5% to 7% from a year earlier and to reach the highest level in three years.

Airport traffic levels "have begun to rebound in recent months, which could result in the busiest Thanksgiving travel demand at the airport since 2007," said Jeff Hamiel, executive director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, in a prepared statement.

As usual, the airline industry is in the middle of a controversy which, this time, involves airport security. Rules recently adopted by the Transportation Security Administration mean that passengers now have two unpleasant choices: have your total-body scan viewed remotely, or undergo an intimate frisk.

Despite the security issue, however, it would seem that all four of the remaining network carriers have plenty to be thankful for this year. Read on for reasons why.



has had a good year. It received

anti-trust immunity across the Atlantic, something its competitors have had for year, and shortly thereafter it received anti-trust immunity across the Pacific.

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In October, it reported its

first profitable quarter in three years.

Moreover, the Allied Pilots Association, American's pilot union,

elected a new leader, one who is not nearly as adversarial as his predecessor but rather believes that for pilots to succeed, the airline must succeed as well.

American shares have risen 11% this year, which is not a lot compared with the performance of its competitors, but is still ahead of the S&P Index, which is up about 7%.



produced some terrific numbers in the third quarter, including a $929 profit excluding items and 54% revenue per available seat mile growth in the Pacific.

The carrier also

beat back a strong challenge from two key airline industry unions, the Association of Flight Attendants and the International Association of Machinists, who wanted to organize key work groups. The unions are appealing to the National Mediation Board, but Delta maintains it did nothing wrong.

The carrier is benefitting from what some view as the airline industry's most successful merger ever. It continues to

expand internationally, taking advantage of its prize acquisition, the Northwest hub in Tokyo. This follows what may have been the industry's most successful bankruptcy, where Delta remade itself. So far this year, shares are up 22%.

US Airways


may not be the biggest carrier, but it has been leading the industry in one significant area: stock performance. Year-to-date, shares are up 129%.

The carrier reported the

best third quarter in its history, prompting a 7% one-day gain in its shares. "This quarter's results are a watershed event not just for US Airways, but for the US airline industry," said CEO Doug Parker, on the October earnings call. "The airline industry is the industry recording record or near-record profits, while the rest of industry is not."

While it badly trails the three network carrier in its international presence, US Airways is

growing internationally, expanding service from Charlotte and Philadelphia to Europe and from Charlotte to Brazil.


pulled off a merger with Continental that made it the world's largest airline. The merger combines some of the airline industry's greatest assets: the biggest hub in New York, the biggest hub in Chicago, the biggest hub in Los Angeles, as well as a hub at Tokyo's Narita Airport.

Like American, United also benefitted from regulatory approval for transpacific immunity with a partner Japanese carrier.

The merger may face

some difficulties in terms of getting labor contracts and merging work groups, but Wall Street is not overly concerned. Shares are up about 121% this year.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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Ted Reed