NEW YORK/CHICAGO, Nov 21 (Reuters) – U.S. airlines and airports are bracing for a surge in passenger numbers over the Thanksgiving holiday, with traveler numbers expected to hit their highest level in three years.
Nearly 55 million Americans will take to the roads, skies and rails for vacation, with air travel recovering to about 99% of 2019 levels before the COVID-19 pandemic, travel group AAA estimates.
“I expect most flights to be very full,” said John Grant, principal analyst at travel data firm OAG. “So finding a seat…could be quite difficult.”
Weary of coronavirus-related lockdowns, Americans are eager to travel more as the impact of the pandemic subsides. However, staff and aircraft shortages have limited the airline industry’s ability to increase capacity, resulting in fewer seats and higher fares for travellers.
Eric Fabricator, 38, of Connecticut, was flying from Newark International Airport to San Francisco on Monday for the holiday and his ticket cost him $800 compared to $250 two years ago.
“I’m always a bit worried about delays because I don’t feel the airlines are that reliable,” he said, citing concerns about exposure to COVID-19 on more planes. crowded. “Touch wood that works.”
The day before Thanksgiving on Wednesday tends to be the busiest day for travel. However, the ability to work remotely has allowed many Americans to extend their trips and avoid the last-day rush.
The new travel model should also ease pressure on airline operations, said Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president at Airlines for America (A4A), an industry trade group. Still, A4A and analysts advise travelers to be patient and arrive early to allow more time for security.
“We’re excited that (travel) demand is coming back,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Monday at an event at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. “I wouldn’t say we’re off the hook… But I’m cautiously optimistic about a good start to this week.”
United Airlines (UAL.O) expects to carry more than 5.5 million passengers from Nov. 18-30, almost matching 2019 and up about 12% from last year. He projects November 27 as his busiest day since the pandemic began.
Delta Air Lines Inc
Airlines are operating 13% fewer domestic flights during the eight-day Thanksgiving travel period compared to 2019, according to data from Cirium.
While flight delays and cancellations have blighted summer travel in the United States, airlines say they’re better prepared to handle the holiday travel rush over Thanksgiving, which occurs on the fourth Thursday in November.
United said it is on track to hire 15,000 employees this year, while Delta said it has reduced its schedule and increased boarding times. A4A estimates that major carriers now have 10% more pilots than before the pandemic. Federal officials say they also have enough staff to handle holiday travel.
PAIN IN THE POCKET
Reduced flights and booming demand, meanwhile, have sent airline fares skyrocketing. Domestic airfares for Thanksgiving are 17% higher than last year and in line with 2019 prices, according to travel app Hopper. International airfares are 30% higher than in 2019.
There is also an increase in demand for cheaper travel options, including buses and trains.
More than 1.4 million travelers head out of town for Thanksgiving by bus, train or cruise ship, AAA estimates. This represents an increase of 23% compared to 2021 and represents 96% of the volume of 2019.
The ratio of bus and train bookings has fallen from around 50/50 in 2021 to 65/35 in 2022, according to land and air travel booking site Wanderu.
“Buses have never been more competitive in the travel space than they are today,” intercity bus service FlixBus said in a statement to Reuters. This year, the company received Thanksgiving travel bookings as early as June, three months earlier than in 2019.
Reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo in New York, Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago and David Shepardson in Washington Editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis
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