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Is the Travel Nightmare Finally Over?

Maybe things finally are improving.

Something weird happened last week. Thanksgiving holiday travel went relatively smoothly.

Experts predicted a massive number of Thanksgiving travelers–and that’s exactly what happened. The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 29.5 million travelers at airports from Friday, November 17, to Tuesday, November 28.

But even with those numbers, the airport horror stories we’ve come to expect over the last couple of years, never really materialized.

Delta released a statement announcing that more than 5.3 million people flew with the airline from November 17-26 and only seven mainline flights were canceled in this time period. American Airlines celebrated a similar win by flying more than 6.5 million passengers during the Thanksgiving break. The airline said that it cancelled 55 of its 59,400+ scheduled flights, fewer than ever in its Thanksgiving history.

According to data analysis by OAG, North American airlines had the worst on-time record in the world this June, with an average of 50.8% on-time performance. But the performance has improved considerably and Forbes reports that 85.7% domestic flights departed on time for Thanksgiving. OAG predicts 90% of timely arrival for travelers this holiday season.

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Overall, this holiday season went without a major snarl, unlike last Thanksgiving, or last Christmas, or this summer when inclement weather and staff shortages lent to terrible delays and cancellations. 

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Hope for Christmas?

Post-pandemic years have tested airlines in the U.S. on multiple fronts. The industry is still recovering from the hurt of the pandemic years, and the forecast hasn’t been optimistic in the recent months. 

Airlines, however, are confident about their capacity this year to handle the big crowds. For the busy holiday travel, American Airlines expanded its schedule and used larger planes and United added 550,000 more seats, according to ABC News. After the unforgettable disaster that Southwest ignited last year, the airline is now working to avoid another meltdown. It has increased staff, upgraded its scheduling software (which caused a lot of problems), and bought new weather equipment (like deicing trucks and ground equipment).

In November, the U.S. Department of Transportation also made a series of improvements to make holiday travel more efficient, including adding new routes along the East Coast, restricting scheduled launches of the commercial space industry, and allowing take off of commercial flights over private jets. 

Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer, expects a record number to travel this year for Christmas and New Year’s. A survey by The Vacationer shows that 131 million American adults will travel. But potential issues may arise from the air traffic controller shortages and weather, he says.

There’s no quick fix for the problem of air traffic controllers, but he doesn’t foresee it causing problems. The most important variable here is the weather, which may cause snowballing effects of flight delays and cancellations, and catch even the most prepared airlines by surprise. “While Thanksgiving went smoothly, the risk of a snowstorm is greater during Christmas and New Year’s. If the weather looks bad before your flight, see if your airline offers a weather waiver, which lets you change your flight at no additional cost.”

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