Travelers wait in line to examine in for his or her flights at a Delta Airlines ticket counter at Orlando International Airport in the course of the busy Christmas holiday season on December 28, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.
Paul Hennessy | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Airlines expect record travel demand this Thanksgiving. Executives say they’re prepared for the hordes.
The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 30 million passengers from Nov. 17 through Nov. 28, probably the most ever. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is predicted to be the busiest day during that period with an estimated 2.9 million passengers taking to the skies.
“We’re ready for the anticipated volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to be sure that we’re prepared for this busy holiday travel season,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a travel forecast earlier this week.
The year-end holidays are a vital time for airlines to drum up revenue. Outside of peak holiday or other high-demand periods, carriers have turned to discounting fares or scaling back growth as consumers’ frenetic post-pandemic travel settles back to historical norms. Meanwhile, carriers are facing higher fuel and labor costs which have eaten into their profits.
But coveted travel days around the vacations can still command steep fares.
And Thanksgiving might be a test to see how the aviation industry handles the year-end holidays while still managing strains like a chronic shortage of air traffic controllers.
The vacation period kicks off nearly a yr after a winter storm triggered 1000’s of flight cancellations around Christmas. Carriers have spent months preparing to be certain that costly missteps don’t reoccur.
Weather readiness is especially key for Southwest Airlines, which canceled 16,700 flights late last yr and in early 2024 following severe winter weather, while other airlines recovered more quickly. The Dallas-based carrier has been spending on increasing aircraft de-icing capabilities and improving technology to raised reschedule crews during flight disruptions.
“In case your crew is on a three-day rotation they usually do not get out day 1, guess what, day 2, day 3 they don’t seem to be there,” Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson told reporters on the Skift Aviation Forum in Fort Value, Texas, earlier this month. “An airline all the time has to maintain moving. An airline stops moving, and bad things occur.”
Prep is not limited to Southwest.
“We start winter readiness in the summertime,” said United Airlines Chief Customer Officer Linda Jojo. “We’ve got a few of our first meetings when thermometers are at their highest.”
United has also been upgrading a series of self-service tools in its mobile app to assist customers rebook themselves during flight disruptions, in addition to real-time flight information. The carrier last month also launched a recent boarding order in economy — window seat, middle, then aisle — that Jojo said will shave about two minutes off of enplaning.
Those extra two minutes “just helps that flight and the subsequent flight and the subsequent flight,” she said.
More flights, (some) higher fares
The Federal Aviation Administration expects Thanksgiving flights to peak at 49,606 on the Wednesday before the vacation, up from the vacation peak last yr of 48,192. (The busiest day of 2023 up to now was June 29 with nearly 53,000 flights.)
Delta Air Lines said it alone expects to hold between 6.2 million and 6.4 million passengers from Nov. 17 to Nov. 28, compared with 5.7 million last yr and 6.25 million in 2019.
United expects to fly 5.9 million passengers from Nov. 17 to Nov. 29, up 13% from last yr and 5% greater than 2019, and American Airlines expects to fly a record 7.8 million travelers from Nov. 16 to Nov. 28, up from 7 million last yr and beating out 2019 by roughly 200,000 passengers.
Many fares ahead of Thanksgiving were lower than last yr as airlines increased service in recent months, a relief for a lot of consumers who’ve been facing higher rates of interest and inflation.
Thanksgiving flight deals are averaging $248 for domestic round trips in keeping with flight-tracking site Hopper, down from $271 last yr and $276 in 2019, months before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Overall, airfare was down greater than 13% in the newest U.S. inflation report, in keeping with the Department of Labor.