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FILE PHOTO: Passengers travel through Logan Airport in Boston

MONEY & BUSINESS: U.S. Thanksgiving air travel set to be busiest since pandemic began



Passengers check in for Delta Airlines flights and make their way through a TSA security checkpoint ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday and amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

November 24, 2021

By Rajesh Kumar Singh

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Flights and airports across the United States are having one of their busiest days since before the pandemic on Wednesday as millions of people fly to visit their families for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Anticipating higher demand, U.S. carriers are operating at their highest capacity on Wednesday since the holiday travel period began, data from Cirium shows.

Thanksgiving is the beginning of what is shaping up as the busiest holiday season in two years. Rising COVID-19 vaccination rates have made people more confident about travel, leading to a surge in bookings.

U.S. consumers also enter the holiday season flush with spending power, thanks to a still-hefty pile of leftover savings from multiple rounds of government pandemic relief and now double-digit year-over-year wage increases as businesses compete for scarce workers. (For graphic on spending on food services and accommodations, click: https://tmsnrt.rs/3CLC7m9)

Data out Wednesday showed consumer spending overall grew by a greater-than-expected 1.3% in October. Spending on big-ticket items like automobiles lifted the headline figure, but the data also showed broad-based increases in spending on services like travel and eating out that had been sharply curtailed during much of the COVID-19 pandemic. (For graphic on recreation expenditures, click: https://tmsnrt.rs/3DPgHWx)

Americans shelled out record amounts on recreation, eating out, staying away from home and foreign travel last month. (For graphic on spending on foreign travel, click: https://tmsnrt.rs/2ZiM7pi)

RAMPING UP STAFFING

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects to screen about 20 million air passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period, the most since 2019 when nearly 26 million Americans were on the move at that time. On Tuesday, the TSA screened about 2.21 million U.S. air passengers, the sixth consecutive day with checkpoint volume topping 2 million.

The travel rush has brought in scenes of long security lines at some airports. Victoria Spilabotte, public information officer at Los Angeles International Airport, said passengers should arrive early to allow extra time for security.

Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman, said the agency has hired 6,000 new officers this year and has enough staff to deal with the increase in passenger volumes.

“So staffing, while we are hiring, will not slow people down this holiday season,” Dankers said.

The holiday weekend is also a test for carriers after a spate of flight cancellations marred travel over the summer. One in five Americans are concerned about delays and cancellations, an American Pecans/YouGov survey found.

Carriers have ramped up staffing and offered bonuses and other incentives to employees.

“We’re staffed and ready to get our customers to where they need to go safely, reliably and enjoyably,” a Delta Air Lines spokesperson said.

Calm weather expected for Thanksgiving should also help to prevent disruption. There were 244 flight delays and just 12 cancellations on Wednesday, according to tracking service FlightAware.

Some passengers at the Los Angeles airport said the airport was not as busy as they expected.

“So far, so good,” said Lani Emanuel, who is traveling to Seattle to see her daughter. “It was a little tricky finding parking, but it doesn’t seem too crazy busy just yet.”

U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak is also expecting a jump in passenger volumes. A company spokesperson said some trains are already close to full capacity.

Travel group AAA estimates, in all, 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020, with air travel recovering to about 91% of pre-pandemic levels.

The biggest concern this holiday season is high fuel prices, the YouGov survey found.

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; additional reporting by Dan Burns, David Shepardson, Alan Devall and Omar Younis; Editing by Stephen Coates, Barbara Lewis, Mark Porter and Aurora Ellis)





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