Thanksgiving air travel set for records in airline tests

Travelers line up to check in for their flights at the Delta Airlines counter at Orlando International Airport during the busy Christmas holiday season, December 28, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.

Paul Hennessy | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Airlines expect record travel demand this Thanksgiving. Leaders say they are ready to face the hordes.

The Transportation Security Administration plans to screen 30 million passengers from November 17 to 28, an all-time high. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is expected to be the busiest day of this period, with approximately 2.9 million passengers taking flight.

“We are prepared to handle anticipated volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to ensure we are ready for this busy holiday season,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in comments. travel forecast earlier this week.

The holiday season is a crucial time for airlines to generate revenue. Outside of peak holiday or other periods of high demand, carriers have shifted to discounted fares or reduced growth as consumers’ post-pandemic frenzied travel returns to historic norms. Meanwhile, carriers are facing higher fuel and labor costs that have eaten into their profits.

But coveted travel days during the holidays can still command high fares.

And Thanksgiving will be a test to see how the aviation industry handles the holiday season while managing stresses such as a prolonged shortage of air traffic controllers.

The holiday season begins nearly a year after a winter storm caused thousands of flight cancellations around Christmas. Carriers have spent months preparing to ensure costly missteps don’t happen again.

Preparing for weather conditions is particularly essential for Southwest Airlines, which canceled 16,700 flights late last year and early 2024 following severe winter conditions, while other airlines recovered more quickly. The Dallas-based carrier has invested in increasing aircraft de-icing capabilities and improving technology to better reschedule crews in the event of flight disruptions.

“If your crew is on a three-day rotation and they don’t get out the first day, guess what, day 2, day 3, they’re not there,” said Andrew Watterson, chief operating officer of Southwest Airlines, to journalists at the Skift Aviation Forum. in Fort Worth, Texas, earlier this month. “An airline must always keep moving. An airline stops and bad things happen.”

Preparation is not limited to the Southwest.

“We start preparing for winter already in the summer,” said United Airlines Linda Jojo, Chief Customer Officer. “Some of our first meetings take place when the thermometers are at their highest.”

United has also upgraded a series of self-service tools in its mobile app to help customers self-change their reservations in the event of flight disruptions, as well as real-time flight information. Last month, the carrier also introduced a new economy class boarding order – window, middle, then aisle seat – which Jojo says will save about two minutes of boarding time.

Those extra two minutes “just helps this flight and then the next flight and the next flight,” she said.

More flights, (some) better fares


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