The big holiday travel wild card

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(CNN) — Summer flight disruptions are making air travelers nervous as Americans head into what is expected to be their busiest holiday travel season since 2019.

According to airlines, industry groups and aviation analysts, U.S. airlines are in a much better position to avoid a holiday meltdown than they were this summer.

“They’re adjusting their schedules, they’re hiring a lot, they’re putting people in the right place at the right time,” said Nick Cario, president and CEO of Airlines for America. ‘ said. US airline.

The number of Americans expected to travel by air on Thanksgiving is up 8% from last year, and air travel is expected to be about 99% of what it was in 2019, according to AAA forecasts.

United Airlines has said it plans to hire 15,000 employees in 2022, and Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CNN that the company has employed 25,000 people since the beginning of last year and is currently said he was still hiring.

According to Airlines for America, airlines are now over staffing levels for 2019, and US airlines are adjusting staffing models to account for factors such as increased absenteeism. U.S. airlines are also increasing their staff reserves on hand, according to the group, and Americans who can work remotely have more flexibility, making holiday travel periods less focused. pointing out.

“We’re not out of the woods just yet,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. “But I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re off to a good start this week.”

Travelers wait at a security checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on November 24, 2021.

Lindsay Wasson // Reuters

But there is still a big wild card. It predates the problem exacerbated by the pandemic. It has the power to thwart even the best of plans, even if the predictions come true.

Kallio told CNN’s Pete Muntean that “the weather is always a concern because it is most likely to ruin flights and flight patterns.”

Bastian recently said on NBC’s “Today” show that Delta has enough pilots, planes and customer service for the holiday season and plans in place to deal with inclement weather. rice field.

Kathleen Bangs, a spokesperson for flight-tracking site FlightAware, noted that the airline’s operations went very smoothly over Thanksgiving last year. The cancellation rate across the US was just 0.4% for her, and she had just under 15% for delays during the holiday week (Sunday through Sunday).

She attributed its performance largely to “unusual weather in most of the United States”.

According to CNN’s weather team, with millions of people out on the road on Wednesday and broadcast for the holidays, there were only a few places where problems arose, but let’s go home for the weekend. It could be a different story if you are.

less seats

Bob Mann, aviation industry analyst at RW Mann & said, while weather is the biggest variable, “there’s just fewer seats available compared to 2019. This is due to flights filling up and flight delays. and canceled flights means there are fewer seats available to accommodate customers again.” company.

He noted that while staffing has certainly improved since the summer, how airlines implement their contingency plans will be key to success.

Some major U.S. airlines are not yet flying at their pre-pandemic capacity.

Delta’s network capacity is down about 15% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

During Thanksgiving, United expects to average more than 3,700 flights per day, representing about 90% of its 2019 capacity. Still, airlines are expecting roughly the same number of travelers as in 2019.

And this situation is not unique to United.

“That means flying the same or about the same number of people. Airlines are flying fewer flights, using larger equipment, relying more on major jets than regions, and filling every last seat.

Travelers cross the Skywalk at Baltimore/Washington International Airport on November 21, 2022.

Travelers cross the Skywalk at Baltimore/Washington International Airport on November 21, 2022.

Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

United Airlines added 275 flights on Sunday, Nov. 27 to meet demand. Airlines expect Sunday to be their busiest travel day since pre-pandemic.

John Grant, chief data analyst at aviation database OAG, said overall U.S. domestic capacity for the week of Thanksgiving will be about 95% of 2019 levels.

He expects near 100% load factor on nearly all flights over the holiday period.

“And if the seat next to you becomes empty, you’ve won the lottery,” said Grant.

Airlines and agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration are “doing everything they can to prevent unforeseen natural events such as weather,” Grant said.

“I think you’ll be fine as long as it doesn’t snow.”

Tips for smooth holiday air travel

Please pay attention to the weather.

FlightAware’s Bangs says knowing where the big fronts are and where winter storms are expected “gives you the option to reroute before you commit to departure.”

Be aware of flight changes and travel advisories.

Stay up-to-date on changes in your airline’s apps and apps like FlightAware. Check the airline’s website for travel information and precautions that may allow free changes in case of bad weather.

Be aware of the airline’s response to long delays and cancellations.

Collect carry-on baggage.

“Don’t check your bags. It’s only four days,” said Paula Twydale, senior vice president of travel at AAA.

Have a carry-on baggage contingency plan.

On a busy flight, heavy coats and gifts can clog your overhead bins in addition to your carry-on. Passengers may also be required to check roller suitcases at the gate.

That means you’ll be ready to quickly swap out your suitcase for what you really need, like valuables or medicine, into a small bag that fits under your seat.

“Airlines can’t take anything under your seat bag, but they can stop you from boarding things like roller bags and duffel bags once they see your trash can full,” Bangs said.

catch an early morning flight“I tend to go out on time,” Twidale said.

Make parking reservations early.

“Don’t assume there are available parking spaces” in the airport’s onsite or offsite parking lots, Twidale said.

Tips for drivers

The majority of Americans (about 49 million out of 54.6 million vacationers) drive to their destinations for Thanksgiving.

Avoid the highway on Wednesday afternoons.

Expect the busiest hours between 11am and 8pm.

Get out early on Thanksgiving Day.

Thursdays are less crowded before 11am.

Avoid this late hour on weekends.

AAA recommends avoiding Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between 4:00 PM and 8:00 PM.

CNN’s Pete Muntean contributed to this report.

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