The holiday travel rush in the U.S. has reached its peak, with mild weather and lower flight cancelation rates bringing a sense of optimism for both drivers and airline passengers compared to last year. U.S. airlines are anticipating a successful holiday season and have taken measures to handle the crowds effectively, including hiring thousands of pilots, flight attendants, and other staff. This proactive approach aims to avoid the delays and disruptions that plagued travel last year, culminating in the Southwest Airline debacle that left over 2 million people stranded.
Fortunately, airlines have only canceled 1.2% of U.S. flights so far this year - the lowest rate in five years. However, unpredictable bad weather always poses a threat. To ensure smooth operations and passenger satisfaction, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has warned that the government will hold airlines accountable for any disruptions. In line with this, the Transportation Department recently announced a settlement requiring Southwest Airlines to pay $140 million for its meltdown last year.
As of mid-Friday, fewer than 50 flights had been canceled in the U.S., with approximately 1,200 delayed, according to FlightAware. The auto club AAA projects that around 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 compared to last year. The busiest travel days on the road are expected to be Saturday and next Thursday, Dec. 28, according to transportation data provider INRIX.
On Thursday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 2.6 million passengers, which was predicted to be one of the busiest travel days alongside Friday and New Year’s Day. Although this fell short of the record-breaking 2.9 million passengers screened on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it is important to note that travel during the Christmas and New Year's period tends to be more spread out.
Remarkably, despite concerns about the economy, travel has remained robust this year, surpassing pre-pandemic levels. The TSA has screened 12.3% more travelers compared to the same period last year and 1.4% more than in 2019.
Inflation Eases and Travelers Benefit
In recent times, inflation has shown signs of slowing down, which has brought relief to travelers. Lower average gasoline prices and air fares have contributed to this positive trend.
The national average gas price as of Friday stands at $3.13 per gallon. This reflects a decrease of 15 cents compared to a month ago. While the current price is about 3 cents more than last year, the downward trend in prices is a welcome change. These figures have been reported by AAA.
According to the latest government data, average air fares in October were 13% lower compared to the same period last year. This decline in air fares has made travel more affordable for passengers.
International Air Travel
Although international air travel is still not at pre-pandemic levels, it has shown signs of recovery. Travel data firm FowardKeys reports that airlines have experienced a boost in ticket sales for international arrivals to global destinations. Between December 21 and December 31, ticket sales have increased by 31% compared to the same period last year.
Challenges in Northern Europe
While many travelers are enjoying the benefits of lower prices and increased accessibility, some unfortunate incidents have plagued the travel industry in northern Europe.
Northern Europe experienced severe weather conditions recently, with heavy rain and strong winds causing damage and disruptions. This led to warnings of flooding along the North Sea coast and the toppling of trees.
Furthermore, labor unrest has caused disruptions in transportation services. A surprise strike by workers at the undersea tunnel between Britain and France resulted in the cancellation of passenger and vehicle-carrying services. Fortunately, an agreement with unions was reached, and services are expected to resume soon. Eurostar, the passenger train service between London and continental Europe, will increase its operation with six extra trains between Paris and London over the weekend.
Weather Forecast for the U.S.
Looking at the weather forecast for the United States, AccuWeather predicts rain storms in the Pacific Northwest and the southern Plains states, including Texas, later this week. However, there is good news for population centers in the Northeast, as they can expect more favorable weather conditions. This is particularly beneficial for key airports in the region.
In Southern California, a recent storm brought heavy rain and street flooding on Thursday.