The U.S. aviation industry is gearing up for a surge in passengers this Thanksgiving weekend. According to data from OAG Schedules Analyser, airports and airlines are expected to operate at around 5 percent above pre-pandemic levels.
A staggering 30 million travelers are expected to take to the skies from November 17 to 28. On November 26 alone, nearly 3.07 million people are expected to fly across 23,100 flights, setting a new record for the highest number of airline seats filled daily across the U.S.
An analysis by Routes reveals that about 19.16 million domestic seats are available during the week beginning November 20 – a rise of 4.5 percent on the corresponding Thanksgiving week in 2019 before the pandemic.
The increased domestic travel can be attributed to reduced prices, resulting from increased flight capacity in recent months and more competition between airlines on key domestic routes. However, concerns are rising that airlines and airports may not deliver in the face of such staggering demand, as service at U.S. airports recently has left much to be desired.
In 2023, airlines have had an unprecedentedly poor year in terms of on-time performance, with almost a quarter of all flights suffering delays, which is a record number.
The U.S. airline industry has also been affected by staff shortages, mass cancellations, and unforeseen weather incidents in 2023, making a grim reading for all involved. During the recent holiday over July 4, thousands of cancellations occurred nationwide due to shortages in pilots and air traffic controllers.
United was the hardest hit during that period, with hundreds of the carrier’s flights being delayed or canceled from its hub at Denver International (DEN), resulting in thousands of affected passengers and much criticism.
Industry observers are closely watching the industry’s performance over this Thanksgiving period, with airlines and airports getting another chance to prove they can provide functional service to the record numbers of passengers expected.
“We have never seen that many people fly over Thanksgiving before,” said Rebecca Spicer, Senior VP for Communications at Airlines for America (A4A).
“U.S. airlines have been preparing for months to make sure they are ready to welcome millions of travelers this Thanksgiving. They have been hiring aggressively and continuously adjusting their schedules to have the right number of seats for the right routes.”
A further challenge for organizers will be the storms and inclement weather forecast for the ‘busiest ever’ Thanksgiving holiday travel season, as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) dubbed it.
The Southern states will experience heavy snow, rain, and thunderstorms from Monday, with Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi mainly affected. The central states will all experience heavy downpours as a result.
The country’s east coast will be hit by heavy rain and winds, with disruptions at airports in New York, Washington DC, and Philadelphia all likely. Snow is forecast across New England, making both air and road travel challenging for prospective travelers.
However, the TSA assured travelers they are prepared for the days ahead. TSA representative David Pekoske stated: “We are ready for the anticipated volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to make sure we are prepared for this busy holiday travel season.”