With Christmas only a couple of weeks away, airlines are now gearing up for what they anticipate will be the busiest holiday travel period since the pandemic.
While the 2022 Thanksgiving travel period became the busiest following the pandemic, airlines are expecting the Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel season will see even more people taking to the skies. United Airlines, for example, forecasts 8.3 million people will fly with the airline, an increase of 1.9 million more travelers compared to 2021. The Chicago-based carrier also anticipates that Jan. 2 will be its busiest travel day, with more than 480,000 passengers.
Airlines for America, the trade group that represents most big U.S. carriers — including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United — emphasized that airlines have made significant improvements to their operations since suffering operational reliability issues earlier this year after adjusting their schedules and hiring more staff. Since the peak of the pandemic, Sharon Pinkerton, the senior vice president of policy at A4A, said airlines have collectively hired 106,000 more people, and are now adding 4,600 employees a month.
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Pinkerton also said airlines now have the operational capability to handle the increased demand in travel, following a summer defined by endless lines at airports and a soaring number of flight delays and cancellations.
“2022 was a challenging and difficult year,” Pinkerton said. “The operating environment was tough, but starting in September, we turned a corner. I believe we are now poised for success and importantly, growth, now that we’ve stabilized the operation.”
Thanksgiving was a far contrast from the chaotic summer travel season, with a travel period that was a lot smoother for airlines, with minimal disruptions. Even though severe weather caused some flight delays in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, only a small number of flights were canceled.
Pinkerton added that October, November and December are also shaping up to have the lowest cancellation rates of the entire year. And in December, cancellation rates ranged from 0.2% to 1.2%, despite some severe weather, according to Pinkerton. The summer, on the other hand, averaged a cancellation rate of around 2.2% from Memorial Day to Sept. 1.
A4A officials also offered some tips heading into the holiday travel season, such as allowing plenty of time to get to the airport and to go through security checkpoints. And for the holidays, A4A suggests that travelers wrap their gifts after reaching their destination.
Despite the challenges airlines faced in 2022, Pinkerton said they have a generally rosy outlook for 2023.
“We’re turning to 2023 with a renewed sense of optimism, a focus on maintaining our operational reliability, with an eye toward growth,” Pinkerton said. “The good news is that the future is very promising because people do want to travel.”
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