Airlines Brace for Record Thanksgiving Air Travel

Airlines anticipate record Thanksgiving travel. Executives think they're ready for the masses.

TSA plans to inspect 30 million travelers from Nov. 17 to 28—a record. Air travel is predicted to peak on the Sunday following Thanksgiving with 2.9 million passengers.

“We are ready for the expected volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to ensure sure we are prepared for this busy holiday travel season,” TSA Director David Pekoske said earlier this week.

Year-end vacations are vital for airlines' income. As customers' post-pandemic travel settles back to historical norms, airlines have discounted tickets or scaled down expansion outside of peak holiday or other high-demand times. 

However, holiday travel days might be expensive. The aviation industry will test its ability to manage year-end festivities and a persistent air traffic controller deficit on Thanksgiving.

Nearly a year after a winter storm cancelled hundreds of flights around Christmas, the holiday season begins. Carriers have spent months planning to avoid expensive mistakes.

Southwest carriers prioritizes weather preparation, since they canceled 16,700 flights in late 2023 and early 2024 due to harsh winter weather, while other carriers recovered faster.

United Airlines Chief Customer Officer Linda Jojo remarked, “We start winter readiness in the summer.” We have some of our initial contacts when temperatures peak.”

United has also been updating its mobile app self-service facilities to let consumers rebook amid flight interruptions and provide real-time flight information. 

Improved pricing, more flights Thanksgiving flights are expected to peak at 49,606 on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, up from 48,192 last year. June 29 had almost 53,000 flights, 2023's busiest day.

United anticipates 5.9 million passengers from Nov. 17-29, up 13% from last year and 5% from 2019, while American Airlines anticipates a record 7.8 million trips from Nov. 16-28, surpassing 2019 by 200,000 passengers.

Many tickets ahead of Thanksgiving were cheaper than last year as airlines extended service in recent months, relieving passengers suffering rising interest rates and inflation.

Hopper reports that domestic round-trip Thanksgiving travel fares average $248, down from $271 last year and $276 in 2019, months before the COVID-19 outbreak.