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Smooth Thanksgiving Holiday Travel After Chaotic Summer
Despite having a chaotic summer of air travel, US airlines performed well during Thanksgiving week. According to the flight tracking website FlightAware, US airlines canceled a total of 441 flights across the week. Calm weather across the continental US kept the airlines moving. The only exception was a major storm on Sunday, delaying more than 7,000 flights while accounting for 179 canceled flights.
In the meantime, most travelers also reported clearing security in a reasonable time. There have not been any large-scale reports of extra-long security lines from social media.
The contrast comes after airlines scaled back ambitious flight schedules to a more sustainable compared to the summer. Increased hiring across the industry also kept the transportation system moving.
Travel Compared to 2019
According to TSA, nearly 27 million passengers passed security checkpoints between November 17 and 28. Sunday saw more than 2.5 million passengers through security checkpoints, the highest since the pandemic. The throughput represents a 6.8% increase from 2021 but is still 5.7% below the 2019 level. The trend is consistent with data from October, where the total number of passengers passing TSA checkpoints was 5.5% below the 2019 level.
While most of the world has reopened, high inflation and high fare prices have deferred some travelers from taking planes. AAA reported road travel has recovered at a higher pace to 98% of pre-pandemic levels.
Change in Consumer Habits
TSA throughput data matches airlines’ claims that flexible working arrangements stretch the holiday traveling period. Normalized numbers based on data from November 17 to Thanksgiving day show more people departed on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, while a lower percentage of people left on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thanksgiving day. More passengers are staying home through at least Monday despite more people traveling on Friday after Thanksgiving.
The more distributed travel demand also eased airlines’ pressure to provide reliable transport during the break. Although more companies require employees to work hybrid weekly, many still allow employees to work fully remotely for a few weeks in a year. While this reduces the chance of extremely expensive fares during peak travel times, flights further away from the holidays will also become more expensive.
A Good Omen for Christmas Travel?
Thanksgiving travel provides a preview for the upcoming Christmas travel season. Many can expect a similar trend where more people will start their trip early or return home later than usual. This past week clearly shows that the airlines have the right resources to handle their day-to-day operations. If all goes according to plan, the airlines should be able to get people to their destinations.
While the smooth sailing largely relied on fair weather, airlines have had to weather through several weather systems since Sunday. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday saw more than 7,000, 5,000, and 4,000 delays, respectively. Despite the many delays, the airlines managed to keep cancellations to mere hundreds, boosting consumer confidence in traveling this holiday season.
Although the performance is in no way a guarantee of smooth operation in the busiest time of the year, it is a good sign that the airlines can keep people moving again. In the meantime, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for good weather through the holiday season.
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