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Major U.S. Carriers Prepare for Busiest Thanksgiving Holiday since 2019


A Delta 737-800 in Seattle. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

With the removal of most if not all travel restrictions after the COVID pandemic U.S. airlines are expecting the busiest Thanksgiving in three years. Thanksgiving falls on Thursday, Nov. 24 and traditionally the busiest day to travel is the Sunday following the holiday as well as the Wednesday prior to the holiday.

Delta Air Lines is expecting close to 6 million passengers to travel in the period between Nov. 18 through Nov. 29. Though this number equates to an average of 500,000 travelers per day, it does fall a little short of the 2019 figure of 6.3 million passengers traveling on Delta within the same date range. Delta Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian gave confidence that holiday season travelers can rely on the airline over the coming weeks.

“Thanks to the hard work of our more than 80,000 people around the globe, Delta customers can expect the very best service and industry-leading reliability as they reconnect this holiday season,” Bastian said. “Our teams are ready to serve.”

American Airlines Chief Executive Officer Robert Isom echoed the confidence of his competitor when discussing the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday period. Speaking at the Skift Aviation Forum on Wednesday, Isom said, “Look, we’ve had three hurricanes in the last few months. We’ve had all sorts of issues. But October was one of the best months in terms of performance … I look at the holidays as a busy time, but it’s something I know we’ve had more pilots on hand, more attendants and team members. We’re ready.”

Part of the reason for his confidence is that the airline is seeing a less constricted holiday travel period. With remote working and changes to the way in which business is conducted post-pandemic, Isom has seen these affect traditional travel trends and patterns.

“It’s interesting. Travel, as it’s come back, we’re doing things differently. People are spreading out, going past nine-to-five. I see it all over the place, and that bodes well. For our airports and airlines, we’re not all beholden to the structure of the past,” Isom added.

United Airlines is expecting record post-pandemic numbers of passengers with Reuters reporting the carrier will have its busiest travel day since March 2020 on Sunday, Nov. 27. The airline is forecasting 5.5 million passengers in the period of Nov. 18 to Nov. 30 — a 12 percent increase over the same date range in 2021. United is adding 275 extra flights on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, to accommodate an estimated 460,000 travelers.

United States Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is equally confident with regard to the aviation industry’s preparedness for the upcoming holiday season. Reflecting on the issues the industry faced over the summer period and acknowledging the improvements gained, since Buttigieg did sound a note of caution. “As we get ready for Thanksgiving and then the winter holiday travel season, we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John is currently the course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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