Airports and airlines in the US are expecting to handle the highest-ever number of passengers over a Thanksgiving weekend in the coming days.
Around 30 million travelers are expected to take to the air in total, with passenger numbers due to peak on November 26 following Thanksgiving itself, with almost three million passengers set to fly on that day alone.
Although airport authorities and airline executives say that they are prepared for the record number of travelers, previous holiday travel at US airports in recent years will add to the pressure being faced by those attempting to get huge numbers of the traveling public to their destinations on time and with their luggage.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects to screen a record-breaking 30 million passengers from November 17 through November 28, 2023. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) expects Thanksgiving flights to peak at 49,606 on November 22, up from 48,192 on the same day in 2022.
The surge in travel is largely thanks to lower prices, which have fallen as US airline services have increased and competition on key routes has risen in recent months. According to the US authorities, overall airfares have dropped 13 % from this time last year.
Delta Air Lines has said that it expects to carry between 6.2 million and 6.4 million passengers over Thanksgiving, while United is expecting 5.9 million, a figure that is 13 % higher than last year.
The predicted numbers are far in excess of those seen in the months prior to the start of the pandemic when the TSA says it handled 26 million passengers.
The surge in demand over the forthcoming holiday period will be a further test for US airlines, which are seeing 2023 developing into the worst ever in terms of on-time performance. So far in 2023, airlines have racked up a record number of delayed departures, with nearly a quarter of all flights departing late – that is, more than five minutes after the scheduled time of departure.
The woeful on-time performance is adding to other issues that have negatively affected the US airline industry this year. These issues have included staff shortages, adverse weather incidents, mass cancelations, a series of near misses at airports, and the discovery of counterfeit engine parts in numerous commercial aircraft.
The most recent holiday period in the US, Independence Day (July 4), was blighted by thousands of cancellations across the US due to a number of reasons, which included shortages of both pilots and air traffic controllers. United Airlines was singled out for the most criticism over that holiday period after thousands of passengers traveling from its Denver (DEN) hub were affected by hundreds of the airline’s flights being either delayed or canceled.