Thanksgiving travel fever is back with new habits

Thanksgiving travel fever is back with new habits

Thanksgiving travel rush returned this year, as people took planes in numbers not seen in years, putting inflation concerns aside to reunite with loved ones and enjoy some normality after two festive seasons marked by COVID-19 restrictions.

However, changing work and play habits could disperse the crowds and reduce the usual amount of holiday travel stress. Experts say that many people will start their vacation trips early or return home later than normal because they will spend a few days working remotely, or at least tell the boss they are working remotely.

The busiest days during Thanksgiving week are usually the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday after the holiday. This year, the Federal Aviation Administration expects Tuesday to be the busiest day with approximately 48,000 flights scheduled.

Chris Williams, of Raleigh, North Carolina, flew Tuesday morning with his wife and two children to Atlanta, Georgia, to spend the holidays with his extended family.

“Of course it’s a stressful and expensive time to fly,” said Williams, 44, who works in finance. “But after a couple of years of not being able to spend Thanksgiving with our extended family, I would say we feel grateful that the world has gotten to a safe enough place where we can be with our loved ones again.”

Although Williams said the family budget has been tight this year, she took the opportunity to teach her children some personal finance basics. Her youngest daughter, 11, has been learning how to budget her allowance money since March and is excited to buy small gifts for her friends on Black Friday or Cyber ​​Monday. “Probably slime,” she said, “with glitter.”

The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2.3 million travelers on Tuesday, up from more than 2.4 million screened on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2019. On Monday, the numbers were up compared to 2019 : More than 2.6 million travelers compared to 2.5 million. That same trend occurred on Sunday, marking the first year that the number of people taking planes on Thanksgiving week exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

“People travel on different days. Not everyone travels on that Wednesday night,” says Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of the Airlines for America trade group. “People are spreading out their trips throughout the week, which I also think will help ensure smoother operations.”

AAA predicts that 54.6 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home in the US this week, an increase of 1.5% over Thanksgiving last year and just 2% less. than in 2019. The auto club and insurance salesman says nearly 49 million of them will travel by car, and 4.5 million will fly between Wednesday and Sunday.

US airlines struggled to keep up as passenger numbers surged this year.

“We had a challenging summer,” said Pinkerton, whose group speaks for members including American, United and Delta. He said airlines have cut hours and hired thousands of workers; they now have more pilots than before the pandemic. “As a result, we are confident that the week will go well.”

US airlines plan to operate 13% fewer flights this week than during Thanksgiving week 2019. However, by using larger planes on average, the number of seats will decrease by only 2%, according to data from travel researcher Cirium.

Airlines continue to blame flight disruptions on a shortage of air traffic controllers, especially in Florida, a major vacation destination.

The controllers, who work for the Federal Aviation Administration, “get tested on vacation. That seems to be when we have challenges,” Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle said a few days ago. “The FAA is adding another 10% to the payroll, hopefully that’s enough.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has disputed such claims, saying the vast majority of delays and cancellations are caused by the airlines themselves.

TSA expects airports to be busier than last year and likely on par with 2019. The busiest day in TSA history was the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, when nearly 2.9 million people were screened. at airport checkpoints.

Stephanie Escutia, who was traveling with four children, her husband and their mother, said it took the family four hours to get through screening and security at the Orlando airport early Tuesday morning. The family was returning to Kansas City in time for Thanksgiving after a birthday trip to Disney World.

“We were surprised at how crowded the park was,” said Escutia, 32. “We thought it might be a bit down, but it was full.”

He welcomed the sense of normalcy and said his family would gather for Thanksgiving without worrying about keeping their distance this year. “Now we are back to normal and we are looking forward to a good holiday,” she said.

People who get behind the wheel or board a plane don’t seem fazed by higher gas prices and airfares than last year or widespread concern about inflation and the economy. That’s already leading to predictions of strong travel over Christmas and New Years.

“This pent-up demand for travel is still real. It doesn’t look like it’s going away,” says Tom Hall, vice president and veteran writer for Lonely Planet, the publisher of travel guides. “That’s keeping the planes full, that’s keeping the prices up.”

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Associated Press writers Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina, Margaret Stafford in Kansas City and AP video journalist Terence Chea in Oakland, California contributed to this report.

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David Koenig can be reached at twitter.com/airlinewriter

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