dallas – Despite inflation and memories of past holiday travel crises, millions of people are expected to hit airports and highways in record numbers over the Thanksgiving long weekend.
The busiest days to fly will be Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as the Sunday after the holiday. The federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) anticipates that it will screen 2.6 million passengers on Wednesday while the largest number of people are expected to be screened on Sunday with an estimated 2.9 million passengers, which will narrowly surpass the record set on June 30.
Meanwhile, the American Automobile Association (AAA) forecasts that 55.4 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home between next Wednesday and Sunday, with roads likely to be more congested on Wednesday.
The weather may hinder air and land traffic. A storm system is forecast to move from the southern Plains to the northeast on Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing strong thunderstorms, gusty winds and possible snowfall.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at a news conference Monday that the government has tried to better prepare over the past year by hiring more air traffic controllers, opening new air routes along the East Coast and offering grants to airlines. airports for the acquisition of snow plows and deicing equipment. But he recommended travelers check road conditions and flight schedules before leaving home.
“Mother Nature is, of course, the X factor in all of this,” he said.
The good news for those who travel both by car and by plane is that prices are going down. Flight costs average $268 per ticket, down 14% from a year ago, according to travel site Hopper.
On the other hand, gasoline prices fell about .45 cents a gallon compared to a year ago. The national average was $3.30 per gallon on Monday, according to AAA, down from $3.67 last year.
A survey of users from GasBuddy, a technology company that offers mobile apps and websites to track locations and prices of gas stations and convenience stores in the United States and Canada, found that despite cheaper fuel prices, the The number of people planning to take a long trip this Thanksgiving hasn’t changed much compared to last year.
Patrick De Hann, an analyst with the service who monitors prices, said inflation has calmed down, but some items like food are still becoming more expensive. Customers also use their credit cards more and save less.
“Sure, they love cheaper gas prices, but many Americans spent on other things this summer and probably aren’t ready to open their wallets for Thanksgiving travel just yet,” De Haan said.
Thanksgiving marks the start of the Christmas travel season and many are still reeling from last year’s December nightmare before Christmas, when severe winter storms disrupted thousands of flights and left millions of passengers stranded.
Scott Keyes, founder of the travel site Going, is cautiously optimistic that air travel this year won’t be as chaotic. So far this year, he said, airlines have avoided huge disruptions.
“Everyone understands that airlines cannot control Mother Nature and that it is unsafe to take off or land in thunderstorms or snow storms.”Keyes said.
“What really bothers people are the controllable cancellations: those extensive disruptions because the airline didn’t get its act together because their system broke down, like Southwest did over Christmas.”
Indeed, Southwest did not recover as quickly as other airlines from last year’s storm, when its planes, pilots and flight attendants were trapped out of position and its system for rescheduling crews became tangled. The airline canceled almost 17,000 flights before fixing the operation.
Federal regulators recently told Southwest it would be fined for failing to help stranded travelers. Officials with the popular airline said they have since purchased deicing trucks and heating equipment, and that, depending on the forecast, they will add staff at airports in cold-weather cities. The company also noted that it updated its crew scheduling technology.
US airlines have generally stopped stranding passengers. Throughout October, they canceled 38% fewer flights than during the same period in 2022. While, from June to August, when thunderstorms can hinder air traffic, the cancellation rate was reduced 18% compared to 2022.
Still, consumer complaints about airline service have skyrocketed, according to the Department of Transportation. There have been so many complaints, the agency notes, that it has only compiled figures through May.
In return, airlines have only blamed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which they say cannot keep pace with growing air traffic. In fact, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general reported this summer that the FAA has made only “limited efforts” to address the shortage of air traffic controllers, especially in key locations like New York, Miami and Jacksonville, Florida.
Meanwhile, employee numbers in other sectors of the airline industry have largely recovered since the pandemic. After laying off tens of thousands of workers, airlines have been hiring since late 2020. They have added more than 140,000 employees, an increase of nearly 40%, according to official figures updated last week. It is the largest number of people working in the sector since 2001, when there were many more airlines.
Airlines are taking advantage of the increased workforce to operate more flights. Southwest is the most aggressive of the big airlines, offering 13% more seats over the Thanksgiving weekend than it did during the same five days last year, according to travel data provider Cirium. United and Delta will offer 8% more each. American will grow a more modest 5%, but still has the most seats.