As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, airlines are gearing up for what is expected to be a record-breaking travel season. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is projecting that they will screen approximately 30 million passengers from November 17th to November 28th, the highest number ever recorded. With an estimated 2.9 million passengers taking to the skies on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, this day is anticipated to be the busiest during that period. In anticipation of the surge in travelers, airlines are working closely with their airline and airport partners to ensure they are fully prepared for the busy holiday travel season. TSA Administrator David Pekoske emphasized the readiness of the industry, stating, “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.”
The year-end holidays hold significant importance for airlines in terms of revenue generation. During periods of peak holiday or high-demand travel, carriers can command higher fares, allowing them to offset the increased fuel and labor costs that have impacted their profitability. However, outside of these peak periods, airlines have faced the need to discount fares or scale back growth as travel patterns settle back to historical norms after the frenzy of post-pandemic travel. This year’s Thanksgiving season will serve as a crucial test for the aviation industry, as it navigates challenges such as a prolonged shortage of air traffic controllers while ensuring a smooth travel experience for passengers.
The holiday period comes almost a year after a winter storm wreaked havoc on the airline industry, resulting in thousands of flight cancellations around Christmas. Determined not to repeat the costly missteps of the past, carriers have spent months preparing to mitigate potential disruptions. Southwest Airlines, in particular, learned valuable lessons from last year’s severe winter weather, which led to the cancellation of 16,700 flights. The Dallas-based carrier has invested in increasing its aircraft de-icing capabilities and improving technology to enhance crew rescheduling during flight disruptions. Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson emphasized the importance of maintaining continuous operations for airlines, stating, “An airline always has to keep moving. An airline stops moving, and bad things happen.”
Southwest Airlines is not the only carrier taking proactive measures to ensure a seamless travel experience during the holiday season. United Airlines has been prioritizing winter readiness, starting preparations as early as the summer. The airline has been upgrading its mobile app’s self-service tools, empowering customers to rebook themselves efficiently during flight disruptions. Real-time flight information has also been made readily available to provide passengers with up-to-date information. Moreover, United recently launched a new boarding order in the economy class, optimizing the process and reducing enplaning time by approximately two minutes. United Airlines Chief Customer Officer Linda Jojo emphasized the ripple effect of these time savings, benefiting subsequent flights and overall operations.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects flights to peak at 49,606 on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, surpassing last year’s peak of 48,192 flights. Delta Air Lines alone forecasts carrying between 6.2 million and 6.4 million passengers from November 17th to November 28th, increasing from 5.7 million passengers in the previous year and 6.25 million passengers in 2019. United Airlines also anticipates an increase in travel, expecting to fly 5.9 million passengers from November 17th to November 29th, representing a 13% rise compared to the previous year and a 5% increase from 2019. American Airlines aims to fly a record-breaking 7.8 million travelers from November 16th to November 28th, surpassing last year’s 7 million passengers and outperforming 2019 by approximately 200,000 passengers.
Despite the surge in travel, many Thanksgiving fares are lower this year due to increased airline services in recent months. This serves as a relief for consumers who have been grappling with significant inflation and higher interest rates. On average, domestic round trip fares for Thanksgiving are currently priced at $248, compared to $271 last year and $276 in 2019, months prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. In general, airfares have seen a decline of over 13% in the latest U.S. market conditions.
Airlines are anticipating a tremendous surge in travel during this year’s Thanksgiving holiday season. With record-breaking passenger numbers expected to be screened by the TSA, airlines have been diligently preparing to address operational challenges and provide a seamless experience for travelers. The industry has learned valuable lessons from past disruptions, investing in enhanced capabilities and technologies to ensure continuous operations. As airlines brace themselves for the holiday rush, passengers can look forward to competitive fares and improved travel services.