WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 (Reuters) – US airlines and airports brace for an influx of travelers ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, hoping the weather forecast remains calm as millions more Americans take to the road or skies .
The U.S. Transportation Safety Administration said on Friday it was the busiest day of air travel since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, as it checked 2.24 million travelers.
The TSA plans to screen around 20 million air passengers during the busy Thanksgiving travel season, up from nearly 26 million during the same period in 2019.
“We are ready,” TSA administrator David Pekoske told reporters at Reagan National Airport in Washington on Friday. “We will be able to handle the passenger volumes that we expect to see.”
As vaccination rates have risen, many Americans are traveling for vacation after skipping family reunions last November and December.
The AAA Travel Group predicts that 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020, with most travelers traveling by car. About 48.3 million Thanksgiving travelers are expected to travel by car, up from 47.1 million last year, but still below the 49.9 million in 2019.
Car travelers will face gas prices approaching their highest point since 2014, causing some Americans to skip vacation trips.
Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said some Americans “react to prices by slamming the car door and staying off the road.”
Airlines are increasing their workforce and offering bonuses and other incentives to employees facing the peak vacation travel season.
Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) said it plans to carry up to 5.6 million passengers from Friday to November 30, nearly 300% from the 2020 Delta 2.2 million passengers for the period, but still below 6.3 million passengers during the same period in 2019..
United Airlines said it was forecasting more than 4.5 million passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period, or about 88% of 2019 volume.
United chief executive Scott Kirby told Skift last week he had great confidence in the airline’s ability to stick to its vacation schedule. “We left ourselves a margin of error,” Kirby said.
He warned that problems can spread and “If you’re not careful it can turn into a meltdown.”
Some other airlines have seen weather problems in recent weeks resulting in hundreds of daily cancellations over several days.
United said it was adding around 700 domestic flights for Thanksgiving week and would complete 87% of its 2019 domestic schedule in November.
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