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
The Federal Aviation Administration expects Thanksgiving flights to peak at 49,606 on the Wednesday before the holiday, compared to 48,192 for last year’s holiday. (The busiest day of 2023 so far was June 29 with almost 53,000 flights.)
Delta Airlines said it alone planned to carry between 6.2 million and 6.4 million passengers from November 17 to 28, compared to 5.7 million last year and 6.25 million in 2019.
United expects to carry 5.9 million passengers from November 17-29, up 13% from last year and 5% more than in 2019, and American airlines plans to carry a record 7.8 million travelers from November 16-28, up from 7 million last year and surpassing 2019 by around 200,000 passengers.
Many fares before Thanksgiving were lower than last year as airlines increased services in recent months, a relief for many consumers facing higher interest rates and inflation.
According to flight tracking site Hopper, Thanksgiving flight deals average $248 for domestic round trips, up from $271 last year and $276 in 2019, months before the start of the holiday season. Covid-19 pandemic.
Overall, airfares fell more than 13% in the latest U.S. inflation report, according to the Labor Department.