The joy of Thanksgiving returned this year as people boarded planes in numbers not seen in years, shunning fears of inflation to connect with loved ones and return to normal life after two holiday seasons marred by COVID-19 restrictions.
However, changing your work and leisure habits can disperse the crowds and reduce the usual stress associated with holiday travel. Experts say many people will go on vacation earlier or come home later than usual because they’ll spend a few days working remotely, or at least tell their boss they’re working remotely.
The busiest days during Thanksgiving week are the Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday after the holiday. This year, the FAA expects Tuesday to be the busiest travel day on record, with about 48,000 flights scheduled.
On Tuesday morning, Chris Williams flew from Raleigh, North Carolina, with his wife and two children to Atlanta, Georgia, for a vacation with his extended family.
“It’s certainly a busy and expensive time to fly,” said Williams, 44, who works in finance. “But after two years of not being able to spend Thanksgiving with our extended family, I want to say that we are grateful that the world is a safe place where we can be with our loved ones again.”
Although Williams said the family’s budget was tight this year, she took the opportunity to teach her children the basics of personal finance. Her youngest daughter, 11, has been learning to budget her pocket money since March, happily buying small gifts for her friends on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. “Maybe slimy,” he said, “with a sheen.”
The TSA screened nearly 2.3 million passengers on Tuesday, compared to 2.4 million on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2019. On Monday, the numbers rose from 2019, increasing the number of passengers from 2.6 million to 2.5 million. The same trend was seen on Sunday, when the number of people boarding planes during Thanksgiving week surpassed pre-pandemic levels for the first time in a year.
“People fly on different days. Not everybody flies that Wednesday night,” says Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of commercial group for American Airlines. “People are spreading their flights throughout the week, which I think will help provide a smoother experience.”
AAA predicts that 54.6 million people will drive at least 50 miles from their homes in the U.S. this week, up 1.5 percent from last year and up 2 percent from 2019. By car and 4.5 million flights from Wednesday to Sunday.
US airlines have struggled to keep up with a sharp increase in passenger numbers this year.
“We’ve had a very busy summer,” said Pinkerton, who is speaking on behalf of members whose group includes American, United and Delta. He said airlines have cut schedules and hired thousands of workers, and now have more pilots than the pandemic. “So we’re confident it’s going to be a good week.”
US airlines are expecting 13% fewer flights this week than during Thanksgiving week 2019. However, according to research firm Cirium, using larger aircraft on average would reduce the number of seats by only 2.
Airlines blame a shortage of air traffic controllers for flight disruptions, especially in Florida, a major vacation spot.
Air traffic controllers employed by the FAA are “tested on vacation. “Then it looks like we’re in trouble,” Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle said a few days ago. “The FAA is adding another 10% to the workforce, and hopefully that will be enough.”
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg disputed the claims, saying most of the delays and cancellations were caused by the airlines.
TSA expects airports to be busier than last year and likely to be around 2019 levels. The busiest day in TSA history was the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, when nearly 2.9 million people were screened at airport security checkpoints. .
Stephanie Escutia, who is traveling with her four children, husband and mother, said it took the family four hours to clear the screen and security at the Orlando airport early Tuesday morning. The family returned to Kansas City for Thanksgiving after a birthday trip to Disney World.
“We were surprised at how complete the park was,” Escutia, 32, said. – We thought it would be a little less, but it was crowded.
She welcomed the sense of normalcy and said her family will get together for Thanksgiving this year without worrying about keeping their distance. “We are now back to normal and looking forward to a good holiday,” he said.
Those getting behind the wheel or on a plane seem unfazed by year-over-year increases in gas and flight prices, and widespread concerns about inflation and the economy. This already means a strong travel forecast for Christmas and New Year.
“There’s still this unmet demand for travel. It doesn’t seem like it’s going away,” says Tom Hall, vice president and longtime writer for travel guide publisher Lonely Planet. “It allows you to fill the planes and raise the prices.”
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