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May 29, 2024

Holiday Travel Off to Smooth Start Despite Worries of Delays

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Dec 24, 2023

The busy holiday travel season is off to a smooth start so far, with few airport delays reported despite worries of major disruptions. Over 115 million travelers are expected to fly or drive over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, making it one of the busiest in years.

Millions Hitting Roads and Skies

Airports and highways across the U.S. are filling up with millions taking to the skies and roads to visit loved ones for the holidays. Officials estimate that over 115 million travelers will journey 50 miles or more from home between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, a significant increase from the past two years when numbers were lower due to the pandemic [1].

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened over 2.1 million travelers on Thursday, one of the busiest days during the holiday period. Sunday is expected to be even busier with over 2.3 million passengers going through security checkpoints.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for travel, and a lot more discretionary income available,” said Debbie Swanstrom, vice president of travel agency services for AAA. “All of that together is driving more travelers to take to the skies, roads and rails.” [2]

Major airports are warning travelers to arrive early and brace for long lines and delays. Still, few issues have been reported so far.

“We haven’t seen anything unusual, or at least unexpected,” said Thomas Tyrrell, an aviation professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “I don’t think it’s going to be a chaotic Christmas travel season, but volume wise, it’ll be close to record-breaking.” [3]

Busy Roads Around U.S.

In addition to airports, highways and interstates are also filling up with families embarking on road trips. AAA predicts that over 102 million people will drive over 50+ miles from Dec. 23 through Jan. 2, despite high gas prices.

“This year will be the third busiest holiday driving season on record,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “So if you’re planning to hit the road, expect congestion and delays especially during peak times.” [4]

Major metro areas around the U.S. are already seeing increased traffic and delays. In northern states, snowy weather has further slowed vehicles on key highways.

The Washington D.C. area in particular is predicting its busiest holiday travel period in years. The Maryland Department of Transportation is warning drivers to expect 50% more delays on I-95, I-270 and the Capital Beltway. [5]

Day Worst Time Best Time
Fri, Dec 23 1:30–7:30PM Before 1 PM or after 8 PM
Sat, Dec 24 2:30–7:30PM Before 2 PM or after 8 PM
Sun, Dec 25 Minimal Congestion

Worst and best times for holiday travel around Washington D.C. [6]

Smooth Operations So Far

Despite worries over staffing shortages, airlines seem more prepared this time around. Carriers added more pilots, reservation agents and other staff while also building larger buffers into scheduling systems.

On Tuesday, President Biden convened a meeting of federal agencies, state and local leaders to highlight efforts to minimize holiday disruptions. Officials say lessons were learned from the summer’s debacles, when airlines struggled to keep pace with the pneumatic rebound in travel.

“We’ve made significant progress since the summer peak travel season,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. [7]

Most flights have been taking off on time so far. FlightAware, which tracks cancellations and delays, knocked its holiday travel forecast down, predicting the cancellation rate will stay near the current average of 2.4% rather than surge to 5.2% as originally expected.

“The industry has really ramped up hiring and staffing,” said John Grant, senior analyst at travel industry research firm OAG. “So barring a major unforeseen event … Capacity Strategies Group believes the holiday peak weeks should run fairly smoothly.” [8]

What Travelers Can Do

  • Arrive early: Give yourself plenty of time to park, check bags and get through security lines
  • Check your flight status: Sign up for airline alerts about delays and gate changes
  • Pack smart: Avoid wrapping gifts to reduce screening time; check prohibited items
  • Have backup plans: Make reservations at backup airports/hotels in case your flight is canceled
  • Practice patience: Lines will be long and delays possible; stay calm and polite

Outlook for Rest of Holiday Season

While operations are running well for now, the busiest days are yet to come. Airlines say staffing levels will be tested on peak days when passenger numbers spike. And winter weather remains an ever-present variable that could snarl operations.

“There’s always a chance of a big winter storm, or something else that can disrupt operations,” said expert John Grant. [9]

After the pre-Christmas rush, travel volume will dip before ramping back up for New Year’s. The TSA expects checkpoint volume to swell again beginning Dec. 30 through Jan. 2 when revelers head home. Officials urge travelers to remain vigilant about flight schedules and road conditions.

Though this year’s holiday travel season is shaping up to be less rocky than some expected, challenges still lie ahead. Travelers are advised to prepare for crowds, delays and last-minute changes as the historic number of journeys continues in coming days.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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