DALLAS — Despite inflation and memories of past holiday travel collapses, millions of people are expected to hit airports and highways in record numbers during the Thanksgiving holiday.
The busiest days to fly will be Tuesday and Wednesday as well as the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The Transportation Security Administration plans to screen 2.6 million passengers on Tuesday and 2.7 million passengers on Wednesday. Sunday will attract the largest crowd with around 2.9 million passengers, which would narrowly eclipse the record set on June 30.
Meanwhile, AAA projects that 55.4 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home between next Wednesday and the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with roads likely to be most clogged on Wednesday.
The weather could disrupt air and road traffic. A storm system is expected to move from the Southern Plains to the Northeast Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing severe thunderstorms, gusty winds and possibly snow.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at a news conference Monday that the government has tried to better prepare for holiday travel over the past year by hiring more air traffic controllers, opening new routes airlines along the East Coast and providing subsidies to airports for snow plows and de-icing. equipment. But he warned travelers to check road conditions and flight schedules before leaving home.
“Mother Nature, of course, is the X factor in all of this,” he said.
The good news for travelers by plane and car: prices are falling.
Airfares average $268 per ticket, down 14% from last year, according to travel site Hopper.
Gasoline prices are down about 45 cents per gallon compared to the same time last year. The national average was $3.30 a gallon Monday, according to AAA, down from $3.67 a year ago.
A survey of GasBuddy users found that despite lower prices at the pump, the number of people planning to take a long car trip this Thanksgiving hasn’t changed much from last year. Patrick De Haan, an analyst with the price tracking service, said inflation had slowed, but some products, such as food, were still becoming more expensive. Consumers are also charging more on their credit cards and saving less.
“Sure, they like lower gas prices, but a lot of Americans spent differently this summer and they may not yet be ready to open their wallets to travel for Thanksgiving,” De Haan said.
Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday travel season, and many still haven’t shaken the pre-Christmas nightmare of last December, when severe winter storms wrecked thousands of flights and left millions of passengers stranded.
“Everyone understands that airlines cannot control Mother Nature and that it is dangerous to take off or land in the middle of a thunderstorm or snowstorm,” Keyes said. “What really irritates people are the controllable cancellations – these widespread disruptions because the airline couldn’t get its act together because its system melted down like Southwest did at Christmas.”
Indeed, Southwest did not recover as quickly as other carriers from last year’s storm when its planes, pilots and flight attendants were stranded out of position and its crew rescheduling system failed. ‘is bogged down. The airline canceled nearly 17,000 flights before repairing the operation. Federal regulators recently told Southwest it could be fined for failing to help stranded travelers.
Southwest officials say they have since purchased additional de-icing trucks and heating equipment and will add staff at cold-weather airports based on forecasts. The company said it also updated its crew scheduling technology.
U.S. airlines as a whole have been more effective at blocking passengers. Through October, they canceled 38% fewer flights than during the same period in 2022. From June to August – when storms can disrupt air traffic – the cancellation rate fell 18% per year. compared to 2022.
Even so, consumer complaints about airline service have skyrocketed, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. There have been so many complaints, the agency says, that it only compiled figures through May.
Meanwhile, staffing levels in other parts of the airline industry have largely recovered since the pandemic. After laying off tens of thousands of workers early on, airlines have embarked on a hiring spree since late 2020. Passenger airlines have added more than 140,000 workers – a nearly 40% increase – according to government figures updated last week. The number of people working in this sector is the largest since 2001, when there were many more airlines.
Airlines are using their increased workforce to operate more flights. Southwest is the most aggressive among major carriers, planning to offer 13% more seats during Thanksgiving compared to the comparable five-day period last year, according to travel data provider Cirium. United and Delta are growing 8% each. Americans will experience more modest growth of 5%, but will still have the largest number of seats.
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