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Home / Companies / News /  Airlines avoid Thanksgiving pitfalls as daily passengers top two million

Travelers returning home Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday are encountering busy airports and full flights, but relatively few of the problems that have plagued air travel in recent months.

The holiday week has been a test of whether U.S. airlines have done enough to prevent the kinds of snafus that have resulted in major meltdowns and thousands of canceled flights.

Sunday was set to be the busiest travel day since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with the Transportation Security Administration predicting some 2.4 million people would pass through U.S. airports. Daily airport passenger volumes exceeded two million people for seven straight days through Wednesday, Nov. 24. After more muted volumes Thursday and Friday, TSA screened more than 2.2 million people on Saturday.

For the most part, the week has gone smoothly. From Monday, Nov. 22, through Saturday, airlines canceled around 400 domestic flights—just 0.33% of what was scheduled, according to FlightAware, a flight-tracking site. On Sunday, around 70 flights to, from or within the U.S. had been scrapped.

Airlines now face a cloudier outlook after the emergence of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19. International travel had been buoyed after the Biden administration ended a regime of travel restrictions that kept out non-U.S. citizens from many countries, and instead required that most foreign nationals seeking to fly to the U.S. show proof of vaccination.

Now, new Omicron-related restrictions in the U.S. and other countries could make international trips more complex and reduce demand once again. The U.S. will bar foreign nationals from eight countries in southern Africa from traveling to the U.S. starting Monday. For people entering the U.K., it will be mandatory to take a PCR test on the second day after arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result. Israel has closed its borders to foreign nationals entirely.

Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest U.S. travel periods, and in the best of circumstances the crowds can cause headaches such as long security lines, packed parking lots, and waits for taxis and ride-shares. This year looked especially tenuous: Airlines that were caught off guard by the resurgence of travel demand in recent months have at times struggled to recover when things went off course, and carriers that expanded aggressively to capture rising demand have proven particularly vulnerable to bad weather or glitches that have caused their operations to unravel for days.

Boone Alexander, who was flying back to Boston on Sunday morning after visiting family in Atlanta, encountered a security line that stretched around the baggage-claim carousels when he arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. He had gotten to the airport three hours early, so had no trouble making his flight despite the hour-and-a-half-long wait at security.

“It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, you know? It’s battle conditions," Mr. Alexander said. Still, he added, “The staff handled it really well."

Airlines’ problems with unruly passengers continued. Law enforcement officers met a Spirit Airlines Inc. flight that arrived in Nashville Saturday evening and arrested a passenger for public intoxication, according to airline and airport officials.

“We do not tolerate aggressive behavior of any kind, and this passenger is no longer welcome on any of our flights," a Spirit spokesman said.

Overall, the weather was cooperative throughout the past week, without major storms or widespread problems. Airlines also took steps to shore up operations and prevent problems during what was expected to be an extremely busy week. Some cut the number of planned flights to better align schedules with staffing and other constraints. A number of carriers have also been offering bonuses or extra pay for employees who work over the holidays, to make sure that airlines don’t run into problems with attendance.

Southwest Airlines Co., which had struggled to balance lean staffing with an ambitious flight schedule over the summer and fall, said its operations ran well over the holiday week. Controllers managed pockets of weather such as wind gusts in the Northeast, rain showers in Texas and snow around the Great Lakes, and the airline didn’t have problems staffing flights, a spokeswoman said.

“Our teams worked to prepare the operation for very high holiday load factors; we are proud to have delivered a strong operational performance for our employees and customers and will continue that dedicated focus as passengers return home," the Southwest spokeswoman said.

Airports also deployed new tools to help manage the traffic. Los Angeles International Airport, for example, rolled out a new system allowing travelers to book parking spots in advance. Its garages have been at capacity so the pre-booking option was a “game-changer," an airport spokesman said.

Alice Gilbert opted to fly home to Dallas-Fort Worth on Saturday rather than Sunday in hopes of avoiding big crowds. While there was heavy traffic at the drop-off lane at San Diego’s airport, the TSA PreCheck line moved quickly and her trip was uneventful—in a good way, Ms. Gilbert said.

“I would categorize my travel experience as very good," she said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

 

 

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