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Busiest Holiday Travel Season in Years Begins Smoothly with Minimal Airport Delays

by Ethan Kim
8 comments
Holiday Travel Season

The current holiday travel season has seen a remarkably smooth start, marked by minimal airport delays and optimistic expectations among both drivers and airline passengers. This year, favorable weather conditions and lower flight cancellation rates have set the stage for a more enjoyable travel experience compared to the challenges faced in the previous year.

U.S. airlines have high hopes for this holiday season, with projections indicating a blockbuster period for travel. To ensure a seamless journey for passengers, airlines have made significant efforts to address last year’s issues, including the hiring of thousands of pilots, flight attendants, and support staff. These proactive measures aim to prevent the delays and suspensions that disrupted travel plans for more than 2 million individuals, notably the Southwest Airlines incident.

In a noteworthy statistic, airlines have canceled just 1.2% of U.S. flights this year, the lowest rate in the past five years. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that adverse weather conditions can pose a potential threat. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has underlined the government’s commitment to holding airlines accountable for maintaining smooth operations and providing excellent customer service in the event of disruptions. In a recent development, the Transportation Department announced a $140 million settlement with Southwest Airlines in response to last year’s meltdown.

As of early Friday evening, approximately 70 flights had been canceled in the U.S., with roughly 3,480 experiencing delays, according to FlightAware.

On Thursday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 2.6 million passengers, marking one of the busiest travel days, alongside Friday and New Year’s Day. While this fell short of the record 2.9 million screened on the Sunday following Thanksgiving, it reflects the spread of travel during the Christmas and New Year’s period.

Despite economic concerns among many Americans, travel has thrived this year, surpassing pre-pandemic levels. The TSA has screened 12.3% more travelers than the same time last year and 1.4% more than in 2019.

Traveler experiences have varied, with some, like Robert Lake, finding the early hours at Atlanta International Airport surprisingly busy. Others, such as Kendall Black, reported pleasant journeys with no issues, even amidst the crowds.

AAA predicts that 115 million people in the U.S. will travel 50 miles or more from home between Saturday and New Year’s Day, representing a 2% increase from the previous year. Transportation data provider INRIX identifies Saturday and Thursday, December 28, as the busiest days on the road.

Lower average gas prices and airfares have eased the financial burden for travelers. Gas prices averaged $3.13 per gallon nationwide on Friday, down 15 cents from a month ago but slightly higher than the previous year. In October, average airfares were 13% lower compared to the same period the previous year.

Internationally, air travel is also rebounding, although it remains below pre-pandemic levels. Travel data firm FowardKeys reports a 31% increase in ticket sales for international arrivals to global destinations between December 21 and December 31 compared to the same period last year.

While many travelers have enjoyed a smooth journey, some in northern Europe have faced challenges due to bad weather and labor strikes. A storm brought heavy rain and strong winds to northern Europe, causing disruptions. Workers at the undersea tunnel between Britain and France staged a surprise strike, temporarily halting passenger and vehicle-carrying services before reaching an agreement with unions. Eurostar, which operates passenger train services between London and continental Europe, announced the resumption of services with additional trains running between Paris and London over the weekend.

In the United States, AccuWeather forecasters have warned of a significant snowstorm in the Rockies as a Pacific storm combines with another system in the Northwest. Travelers are advised to stay informed about possible flight cancellations and delays, particularly in Denver over the weekend.

Contributors:
Laura Bargfeld in Tampa, Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago, David Koenig in Dallas, and Haleluya Hadero in New York have contributed to this report.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Holiday Travel Season

Q: What is the current status of the holiday travel season in terms of airport delays?

A: The holiday travel season is off to a smooth start with minimal airport delays, thanks to favorable weather conditions and lower flight cancellation rates compared to the previous year.

Q: How are U.S. airlines preparing for this holiday season?

A: U.S. airlines have taken proactive measures by hiring thousands of pilots, flight attendants, and support staff to ensure they can handle the expected crowds and avoid the delays and disruptions experienced last year.

Q: What is the rate of flight cancellations in the U.S. this year?

A: Airlines in the U.S. have canceled just 1.2% of flights this year, which is the lowest rate in the past five years. However, it’s worth noting that bad weather remains a potential threat.

Q: What steps are being taken to hold airlines accountable for disruptions?

A: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has stated that the government will hold airlines accountable for smooth operations and good passenger treatment in case of disruptions. Recently, a $140 million settlement with Southwest Airlines was announced for last year’s travel meltdown.

Q: How has the TSA been managing passenger screenings during this holiday season?

A: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 2.6 million passengers on busy travel days, slightly below the record set after Thanksgiving. Travel tends to be spread out during the Christmas and New Year’s period.

Q: Are there any notable trends in travel this year compared to previous years?

A: Despite economic concerns, travel has exceeded pre-pandemic levels this year. The TSA has screened more travelers compared to the same time last year and 2019.

Q: What are the key factors contributing to smoother travel experiences?

A: Lower average gas prices and airfares have made travel more accessible. Gas prices have decreased, and airfares were 13% lower in October compared to the previous year.

Q: How is international air travel faring during this holiday season?

A: International air travel is rebounding, with a 31% increase in ticket sales for arrivals to global destinations between December 21 and December 31 compared to last year.

Q: Have there been any travel disruptions in northern Europe?

A: Yes, some travelers in northern Europe experienced travel disruptions due to bad weather and labor strikes, particularly with a storm causing heavy rain and strong winds.

Q: Is there any specific weather-related warning for travelers in the United States?

A: AccuWeather forecasters have warned of a major snowstorm in the Rockies due to the combination of a Pacific storm and another system in the Northwest. Travelers, especially in Denver, should stay informed about possible flight cancellations and delays over the weekend.

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8 comments

StormChaser December 25, 2023 - 2:42 pm

bad weather in Europe, bummer.

Reply
AviationGeek December 25, 2023 - 3:49 pm

airlines hire more peeps to stop messups like last yr, good move.

Reply
WorriedTraveler December 25, 2023 - 4:20 pm

hope no bad weather, ruin plans, fingers crossed!

Reply
Traveler123 December 25, 2023 - 11:47 pm

wow, travel season looks good, minimal delays, thats gr8!

Reply
RoadWarrior December 26, 2023 - 12:56 am

lower gas prices and airfares, big win for travelers!

Reply
Globetrotter December 26, 2023 - 1:31 am

international travel picking up, yay!

Reply
RockyTraveler December 26, 2023 - 3:51 am

snowstorm in Rockies, keep an eye on flights.

Reply
FlyHighGuy December 26, 2023 - 7:25 am

gov gonna keep airlines on track, thats cool, no more chaos.

Reply

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