The tourism industry in the United States expects this Christmas season to be busy enough to make last summer’s chaos appear small in comparison.
According to airport authorities and industry analysts, passenger volume over the Thanksgiving holiday on November 24 through New Year’s is expected to match or exceed 2019 levels, when 93 million passengers crowded US aircraft. According to a Bloomberg examination of Transportation Security Administration checkpoint statistics, the urge to resume vacationing and visiting relatives this summer drove passenger traffic to almost 90% of pre-pandemic levels.
“We’ll all look back on 2022 as the year that most airports came back in full force,” said Doug Yakel, spokesperson for San Francisco International Airport.
This year, the overall number of airline customers in North America is expected to reach 94% of pre-pandemic levels. According to travel booking platform Hopper, flight rates around Thanksgiving time are up 43% from last year and 22% from 2019 levels, owing to increased demand.
Holiday travelers are expected to encounter boarding gate delays, restricted flight availability, and luggage snafus, much as they did during the prime summer months of May through August. While airports are scrambling to fill positions, airlines continue to experience a scarcity of pilots and other professionals. Winter weather in the United States, as well as the often-heightened demand for flying during a six-week holiday period, may add to passengers’ troubles.
United Airlines Holdings Inc. CEO Scott Kirby stated that, in addition to a lack of pilots, airlines need more aircraft as pandemic-induced supply chain issues cause Boeing Co. and Airbus SE to fall behind in production.
Meanwhile, demand is increasing, aided by the hybrid approach of working from home and office, which allows workers to travel more, he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Oct. 19.
“It’s just a new, permanently higher level of demand,” Kirby said. “That makes every weekend a potential holiday weekend.”
Travelers’ stress levels over the holidays may be affected by their departure and arrival destinations. Airports in Miami, Las Vegas, and Orlando received the most traffic throughout the summer.
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