U.S.

Record crowds are expected to hit the air and roads for Thanksgiving

DALLAS (AP) — Despite inflation and memories of travel collapses of past holidays, millions of people are expected to arrive at airports and highways in record numbers over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The busiest flying days are Tuesday and Wednesday as well as the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 2.6 million passengers on Tuesday and 2.7 million passengers on Wednesday. Sunday will attract the largest crowds with an estimated 2.9 million passengers, which will narrowly exceed the record set on June 30.

Meanwhile, AAA expects 55.4 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home between next Wednesday and the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with roads likely to be their busiest on Wednesday.

The weather may disrupt air and road traffic. A storm system is expected to move from the southern Plains to the northeast on Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing severe thunderstorms, gusty winds and the possibility of snow.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during a news conference Monday that the government tried to better prepare for holiday travel over the past year by hiring more air traffic controllers, opening new air routes along the East Coast and providing grants to airports for snow and ice removal. equipment. But he warned travelers to check road conditions and flight schedules before leaving home.

“Mother Nature, of course, is the X factor in all of this,” he said.

The good news for travelers by plane and car alike: prices are coming down.

Airfare prices average $268 per ticket, down 14% from last year, according to travel website Hopper.

Gasoline prices are down about 45 cents per gallon compared to this time last year. The national average was $3.30 per gallon on Monday. According to AAADown from $3.67 a year ago.

A survey of GasBuddy users found that despite lower pump prices, the number of people planning to take a long drive this Thanksgiving hasn’t changed much from last year. said Patrick de Haan, an analyst at the price tracking service Inflation has cooled But some things like food are still more expensive. Consumers too Charge more on credit cards and save less.

“Sure, they like lower gas prices, but many Americans have spent in other ways this summer and may not be ready to open their wallets for Thanksgiving travel just yet,” De Haan said.

Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday travel season, and many still have not recovered from last December’s pre-Christmas nightmare, when severe winter storms killed thousands of people. Air flights Millions of passengers were left stranded.

Scott Keyes, founder of the travel site Going, is cautiously optimistic that holiday air travel won’t be quite as chaotic. So far this year, airlines have avoided widespread disruptions, he said.

“Everyone realizes that airlines cannot control Mother Nature, and that it is unsafe to take off or land in the middle of a thunderstorm or snowstorm,” Keyes said. “What really upsets people are the controllable cancellations — those widespread disruptions because the airline couldn’t get its act together because its system melted down the way Southwest did over Christmas.”

In fact, Southwest did not recover as quickly as other airlines from last year’s storm when its plans, pilots and flight attendants were trapped off-site and its crew rescheduling system crashed. The airline canceled nearly 17,000 flights before overhauling the process. Federal regulators recently told Southwest it could be fined Failing to help stranded travelers.

Officials at Southwest say they have since purchased snow removal trucks and additional heating equipment and will add staff at cold-weather airports depending on the forecast. The company said it has also updated its crew scheduling technology.

US airlines as a whole have been better about stranded passengers. During October, it canceled 38% fewer flights than in the same period in 2022. From June through August – when thunderstorms can disrupt air traffic – the cancellation rate was down 18% compared to 2022.

And even still, the consumer Complaints about airline service It has risen, according to the US Department of Transportation. The agency says there are so many complaints that it did not collect numbers until May.

In contrast, airlines blame the Federal Aviation Administration, which they say cannot keep up with the growing air traffic. In fact, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general reported this summer that the FAA had made only “limited efforts” to fix a problem. Shortage of air traffic controllersEspecially in major facilities in New York, Miami and Jacksonville, Florida.

Meanwhile, employment levels in other parts of the airline industry have largely recovered since the pandemic. After laying off tens of thousands of workers early on, airlines have been on a hiring spree since late 2020. Passenger airlines have added more than 140,000 workers — an increase of nearly 40% — according to government figures updated last week. The number of people working in this business is the largest since 2001, when there were many airlines.

Airlines are using their expanded workforces to operate more flights. Southwest is the most aggressive among the major airlines, planning to offer 13% more seats over Thanksgiving than it did during a similar five-day period last year, according to travel data provider Cirium. United and Delta are growing by 8% each. The US economy will grow by a more modest 5%, but will still retain the largest number of seats.

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