Europe's airlines might be struggling in the wake of 9/11 and the global economic slump, but searching for flights online has never been more popular, according to a survey carried out by analysts, Nielson/Netratings.

The most visited site was Lufthansa's, which received over 25 million hits in the past 10 months. This is closely followed by our own national carrier, British Airways, with just under 11 million and Dutch airline, KLM, which attracted 5.7 million hits.

Overall the research revealed that the European airlines sector has more than doubled its online audience since last October, with 118 percent growth in 10 months. Airline websites saw the greatest increase in popularity in France, where the audience grew by 230 percent, while the UK saw a boost of 89 percent.

All of the UK airline's direct websites, including Easy Jet, Ryanair and British Airways saw an increase in the number of site visitors from last year.

"Travel sites in general in Europe are recovering from the economic and tourism downturn, and the airline sector in particular is booming," said Tom Ewing European analyst at Nielson.

"What's interesting is the fastest growing sites are all those of well-established non-budget airlines. It is the full price sector that's doing best at the moment. Consumers still want cheap flights, as the success of travel portals shows, but they can now get those flights from a range of operators not just budget airlines," he added.

It's not just airlines that are pulling in the punters though; travel sites in general are becoming increasingly popular. Travel site received over 32 million hits from July 2001-July 2002, with other sites such as Travelselect and Expedia also seeing a huge increase in visitors.

"As people become better at using the internet they are becoming more confident about browsing for bargains and going direct to the airline themselves," said a spokesman at the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). "Big brands are recognising this and using their reputations to their advantage, offering deals straight to the consumer."

The top 10 visited airline sites:

1. Lufthansa
2. British Airways
3. KLM
4. Ryanair
5. BMI
6. Easy Group (which includes Easy Jet)
7. Air France
8. Go Fly
9. Alitalia
10. Scandinavian Airlines