Skift Take

The large number of Americans expected to travel for Thanksgiving is another sign of travel's resurgence but will pose a significant challenge to an aviation industry crippled by staffing shortages. If the airlines — and their thousands of new hires — struggle to cope with the surge of travelers, it could be another blow to industry looking for a quick recovery.

Americans eager to gather with family for Thanksgiving are expected to travel in larger numbers by plane and car for the holiday this year than in 2020.

More than 53 million Americans are projected to hit the road for the holiday, a 13 percent increase from last year, according to the American Automobile Association. Roughly 48.8 million of them are expected to travel by car from Wednesday through Sunday, estimates location data company Arrivalist. That number represents a 9.6 percent jump from 2020 but is 2.3 percent below pre-pandemic levels recorded the previous year.

“Travel has been inching back up to 2019 levels,” said Arrivalist founder and CEO Cree Lawson. “This Thanksgiving will be a litmus test on the resilience of family travel. Are we going to finally return to pre-pandemic levels for good? Or will the growing specter of a winter resurgence keep us grounded through another holiday season.”

The surge in expected Thanksgiving travel comes as Doctor Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it’s OK for vaccinated family members to celebrate the holiday without wearing masks. Close to 196 million Americans — 59 percent of the total U.S. population — are fully vaccinated, according to data published Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Large numbers of people are also expected to travel in the skies for Thanksgiving. About two million people a day are projected to fly from November 19 through November 28, according to the Transportation Security Administration, with some days potentially exceeding that average. And AAA says this Thanksgiving holiday will see a 80.7 percent jump in travelers flying for the holiday over last year.

As for individual carriers, United Airlines said it anticipates attracting more than 4.5 million passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period, a figure that represents 88 percent of its 2019 volume. The Chicago-based carrier said it was adding 700 domestic flights for Thanksgiving week.

Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines said it expects to fly up to 5.6 million passengers from November 19 through November 30, a nearly 300 percent jump over the 2.2 million passengers the airline saw during the same period last year but still under the 6.3 million passengers it recorded during the same time in 2019.

However, neither American Airlines nor Southwest Airlines offered projections for Thanksgiving holiday travel figures. Both carriers have had to scramble to hire thousands of new employees to prevent mass cancellations during the busy year-end period. American cancelled more than 1,700 flights over Halloween weekend due to weather and staffing shortages while Southwest cancelled about 2,000 flights over a three-day period in October because of a combination of the same factors as well as air control issues.

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Tags: family travel, holiday travel, recovery, thanksgiving, tourism recovery, travel recovery

Photo credit: More Americans are expected to travel by car over the Thanksgiving weekend than last year. prvideotv / Pixabay

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