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Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Will Taste Airlines

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Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Will Taste Airlines

Massive flight cancellations. Desperate waiting for customer service. Unruly travellers.

And that was all before the holiday travel season.

Even in normal times, the days around Thanksgiving are a delicate period for airlines. But this week is the industry’s biggest test since the pandemic began, as millions more Americans – excited by vaccinations and reluctant to spend another vacation alone – are expected to take to the skies compared to last year’s holidays. .

A lot rides on the carriers’ ability to pull it off smoothly.

“For many people, this will be the first time they’ve reunited with family, maybe in a year, a year and a half, maybe more, so that’s very important,” said Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial pilot who’s a spokeswoman. Said for FlightAware, an aviation data provider. “If it gets worse, people may rethink travel plans for Christmas. And that’s not what airlines want.”

The Transportation Security Administration said it expected to screen nearly 20 million passengers at airports over 10 days starting Friday, a figure approaching pre-pandemic levels. Two million passed through the checkpoints on Saturday alone, almost double the number of Saturdays before last Thanksgiving.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines both said they expected to fly only 12 percent fewer passengers than in 2019. And United said Sunday it expected its busiest day since Thanksgiving since the pandemic began 20 months ago.

Many Thanksgiving travelers seem to go about their travel routines as usual, with some now familiar with the pandemic.

“Airports are busy right now, and everything is back to normal,” said 22-year-old University of Illinois student Naveen Gunendran, who was flying from Chicago to San Francisco on Saturday to visit relatives at United. “But we are all packed together, and we just have to hope that everyone is safe.”

The demand for stalled travel has pushed up the price of tickets. Hopper, an app that predicts flight prices, said the average domestic flight during Thanksgiving week was on track to be about $293 round-trip this year, $48 more than last year — though compared to 2019. $42 cheaper.

While the industry is projecting optimism about easier travel, the influx of travelers has injected an element of uncertainty into a fragile system that is still grappling with the devastation of the pandemic. Some airlines have experienced recent troubles that ripple for days – disrupting travel plans for thousands of passengers – as carriers struggled to get pilots and flight attendants to delay and reschedule flights, thinning out. Complicated work by employees.

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“We’ve said this many times: The pandemic is unprecedented and extremely complex — it was messy to go into, and it’s messy as we fight to emerge from it,” said Mike Van de Ven, president and chief operating officer of Southwest Airlines. Said in a long note to customers last month.

According to FlightAware, Southwest apologized after canceling nearly 2,500 flights over a four-day period – about 18 percent of its scheduled flights – as a brief bout of bad weather and equally short-lived air traffic control staff. Lack of snowballs.

Weeks later, American Airlines suffered a similar collapse, with more than 2,300 flights canceled over four days – about 23 percent of its schedule – after operating heavy winds at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. largest centers.

American and Southwest have said they are working to address the problems, offering bonuses to encourage employees to work full vacation periods, increased hiring and ambitious flight plans. advancing.

Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing approximately 50,000 flight attendants across 17 airlines, gave carriers good marks for their preparation.

“First and foremost, we are withdrawing demand after facing the biggest crisis ever,” she said.

“I think that’s very well planned,” she said. “And barring a major weather event, I think airlines are going to be able to handle the demand.”

According to FlightAware, just 0.4 percent of flights were canceled on Sunday, which the TSA said was as busy as the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2019.

Major airlines start reporting profits again, and only after factoring in billions of dollars in federal aid. While the aid allowed carriers to avoid widespread layoffs during the pandemic, tens of thousands of employees took generous buyout or early-retirement packages or volunteered to take extended leaves of absence.

This has made ramping up more difficult, and the pandemic has created new challenges. Flight crews have had to deal with overwork and disruptive and belligerent passengers, leaving them scared and scared for their safety.

Helen Albert, 54, a longtime flight attendant for American Airlines, said she had taken 18 months off by choice that was offered because of the pandemic. When she returned to work on domestic routes on November 1, she said, she noticed a difference in passengers from when she began her leave.

“People are hostile,” she said. “They don’t know how to wear a mask and they are shocked when I tell them we no longer have alcohol on our flights.”

The number of such unruly passengers has fallen since the Federal Aviation Administration cracked down on the behavior earlier this year. But the agency has so far started investigating 991 episodes of passenger abuse in 2021, the most in the past seven years combined. In some cases, disruptions have forced flights to be delayed or even diverted – an added strain on air traffic.

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Layered on top of the industry’s struggles during the holiday season is the perennial threat of bad weather. Forecasters have cautioned in recent days that gathering storm systems were at risk of high winds and rain that could disrupt flights, but for the most part, major disruption from weather is unlikely.

“Overall, the news is great in terms of weather collaborating with travel across the country,” said John Porter, chief meteorologist at AccuWeather. “We are not dealing with any major storms across the country, and in many places the weather will be quite favorable for travel.”

Still, AAA recommends that travelers arrive two hours before departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international destinations during the Thanksgiving travel wave.

Some lawmakers warned that Monday’s vaccination deadline for all federal employees could disrupt TSA staff at airports, resulting in long lines at security checkpoints, but the agency said those concerns were unfounded.

“The compliance rate is very high, and we do not expect any disruption due to vaccination requirements,” TSA spokesman R Carter Langston said in a statement Friday.

With many people able to do their work or classes remotely, some travelers leave the city early on what is usually the busiest travel day before the holiday.

TripIt, a travel app that organizes itineraries, said 33 percent of holiday travelers booked Thanksgiving flights for the past Friday and Saturday, according to their reservation data. (That number was down slightly from last year, when 35 percent of travelers departed Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving, and marginally higher than in 2019, when 30 percent of travelers did so, TripIt said.)

Among those taking advantage of the flexibility was 18-year-old Emilia Lam, a New York University student who traveled to Houston on Saturday. That said, she’s doing her classes remotely this week, and she plans her quick getaway to get ahead of Crush. “The flights are going to get more crowded,” she said, as Thursday approaches.

Robert Chiarito and Maria Jiménez Moya contributed reporting.

#Thanksgiving #Holiday #Travel #Taste #Airlines

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