Despite rising airfares due to inflation, many Americans are taking to the skies to spend the holidays with loved ones and celebrate the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. The number of travelers in just the few days leading up to this Thanksgiving has surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
According to data from Hopper, a travel booking app, more than half of Americans expect to travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, with 70% planning to visit family and friends.
With more people working from home, the strain of holiday travel may also be waning. Since people can now work from anywhere, they can start their vacations earlier or stay at their destinations for longer.
The Transportation Security Administration screened 2.6 million passengers on Monday, surpassing the 2.5 million passengers screened on the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2019. This pattern also occurred on Sunday, making 2022 the first year Thanksgiving week travel numbers reached those seen before the pandemic.
Chris Williams told The Associated Press that he and his family of four, including his wife and two children, left Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday morning for a flight to Atlanta, Georgia, to celebrate the holidays with extended family.
Williams said his family’s tight finances this year provided an excellent opportunity to instill sound financial habits in his children.
His eleven-year-old daughter will use her allowance to buy presents for her friends, such as glittery “slime,” on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
“Of course it’s a stressful and expensive time to fly, but after a couple years of not getting to spend Thanksgiving with our extended family, I’d say we’re feeling thankful that the world’s gotten to a safe enough place where we can be with loved ones again.”
Typically, the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday following Thanksgiving are the busiest for air travel. The Federal Aviation Administration predicts that Tuesday, with 48,000 scheduled flights, will be the busiest day this year.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a news release that he believes officers are ready to handle the holiday rush but advocated for higher employee wages.
“We expect to be busier this year than last year at this time, and probably very close to pre-pandemic levels. We are prepared to handle the projected increase in travel volumes next week. However, going forward, making the TSA pay levels equal to other federal agencies is critical to our ability in 2023 to recruit, train, equip and retain a highly skilled and professional workforce on the frontlines of transportation security. It is up to Congress to act on the President’s budget request without delay, enabling TSA to address the current pay gap, which is up to 30% compared with other federal employees.”
Airlines for America vice president Sharon Pinkerton suggested that the potential for more flexible travel dates around Thanksgiving could help reduce stress on airports.
“People are traveling on different days. Not everyone is traveling on that Wednesday night. People are spreading their travel out throughout the week, which I also think will help ensure smoother operations.”
According to AAA, there will be 54.6 million people who travel at least 50 miles within the United States this week. This number is 1.5% higher than Thanksgiving week in 2021 and 2% lower than in 2019. From Wednesday through Sunday, nearly 49 million people will drive and another 4.5 million people will fly to their destinations.
The number of passengers flying with U.S. airlines has increased dramatically this year, and the industry has been strained. Pinkerton said that airlines had a “challenging summer.”
Airlines have reduced flight frequencies and hired thousands of new employees, including more pilots, in response to the increasing demand.
“As a result, we’re confident that the week is going to go well.”
This year, major U.S. airlines will operate 13% fewer flights than they did during the 2019 Thanksgiving week. According to data compiled by travel-research firm Cirium, however, airlines will be able to keep 98% of seats thanks to upgrading to larger aircraft.
However, passengers are still seeing flight delays. Airline companies, particularly in Florida, have pointed to a lack of air traffic controllers as the cause of flight disruptions. Controllers are required to get a COVID test around the holiday season. President and CEO of Frontier Airlines Barry Biffle has stated, “that seems to be where we have challenges.”
“The FAA is adding another 10% to head count, hopefully that’s enough.”
From Friday morning until Sunday night last weekend, roughly one-quarter of flights by U.S. carriers were delayed each day by around 50 minutes, according to flight-tracking company FlightAware. However, less than one percent of flights, or 556 flights, were canceled.
Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation, has refuted these claims, saying that airlines are typically to blame for disruptions.
“We are delighted that demand is returning. I would not say we’re out of the woods, but I am cautiously optimistic about this week being off to a good start.”
The Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019 was the busiest day in TSA history, with nearly 2.9 million people going through security checkpoints. This year, the TSA anticipates airport activity levels throughout the week similar to those seen in 2019.
On Tuesday, Stephanie Escutia told The Associated Press that it took her family four hours to go through check-in and security screening at the Orlando airport. She was traveling with her four children, Stephanie’s husband, and Stephanie’s mother. The family was returning home from a trip to Disney World.
“We were surprised at how full the park was. We thought it might be down some but it was packed.”
She is looking forward to spending time with her relatives without worrying about keeping her distance this year.
“Now we are back to normal and looking forward to a nice holiday.”
Despite price increases in airfare and at the pump due to inflation, tourism has maintained its popularity. Significant travel is anticipated to continue throughout the holiday season.