Airlines gear up for Thanksgiving travel

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As Thanksgiving approaches, the aviation industry is preparing for an unprecedented surge in travel demand. With airlines anticipating record-breaking numbers of passengers, executives are confident in their readiness to handle the hordes of holiday travelers. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is gearing up to screen a staggering 30 million passengers from November 17 through November 28, marking the busiest Thanksgiving travel period ever recorded.

The peak day for air travel is expected to be the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with an estimated 2.9 million passengers taking to the skies. TSA Administrator David Pekoske emphasized their preparedness, 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.”

For airlines, the year-end holidays are a crucial time to boost revenue. Despite facing challenges such as higher fuel and labor costs, carriers recognize the potential profitability of the holiday season. However, Thanksgiving will also serve as a test for the aviation industry, evaluating its ability to manage increased demand amidst ongoing challenges, including a prolonged shortage of air traffic controllers.

The industry recalls the difficulties faced during the previous year’s winter storm that led to thousands of flight cancellations around Christmas. Carriers have spent months preparing to avoid a repeat of costly missteps. Southwest Airlines, in particular, is investing in enhancing its aircraft de-icing capabilities and improving technology to efficiently reschedule crews during flight disruptions.

Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson highlighted the importance of continuous movement for airlines, stating, “An airline always has to keep moving. An airline stops moving, and bad things happen.” Other airlines, including United, have also been proactive in their preparations, starting winter readiness initiatives as early as the summer.

United Airlines Chief Customer Officer Linda Jojo emphasized the airline’s commitment to providing better customer experiences during potential disruptions. United has upgraded self-service tools in its mobile app, allowing customers to rebook themselves and access real-time flight information. Additionally, the airline has introduced a new boarding order in economy to streamline the boarding process.

Despite the challenges, some positive trends emerge for travelers. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) anticipates Thanksgiving flights to peak at 49,606 on the Wednesday before the holiday, an increase from last year. Delta Air Lines, United, and American Airlines all expect a significant uptick in passenger numbers compared to the previous year.

Interestingly, many Thanksgiving flight deals were found to be more affordable than last year, providing relief for consumers facing higher interest rates and inflation. According to flight-tracking site Hopper, the average cost for domestic round-trip flights is $248, down from $271 last year and $276 in 2019, months before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the aviation industry braces for a historic Thanksgiving travel season, airlines are determined to navigate challenges, provide seamless experiences for passengers, and ensure that missteps of the past do not repeat themselves. With record-breaking passenger numbers anticipated, the skies during this holiday season will be a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the airline industry.

(Source: Leslie Josephs | CNBC | NBC News)

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