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Hoping to avoid the chaos of last year, the Big 4 airlines are investing more in winter equipment for the 2023 holiday travel season.

With nearly 40 million people slated to fly during the holidays this year, airlines are preparing for what could be one of the busiest holiday travel seasons on record. 

There’s more pressure on airlines to ensure smooth operations following last year’s winter storm, which led to the cancellation of thousands of flights. Southwest Airlines was hit the hardest after a slew of issues ranging from outdated technology to a lack of de-icing equipment. 

Here is what each major airline is doing to prepare for holiday travel:

American Airlines

American expects 12.8 million travelers from December 20 to January 8, with 11,000 flights. 

American said it uses a technology called the Hub Analytics Efficiency Tool, known as HEAT, to plan and recover from extreme weather. 

American said HEAT allows it to process real-time data on weather conditions, its customers, air traffic control, crews and gate availability, among many other operational aspects. In July, American said using HEAT helped it avoid 1,000 flight cancellations since implementing the technology in 2022. 

The carrier also said it has invested more in off-season maintenance to help reduce the number of aircraft that are out of service during peak travel periods, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. 

Delta Air Lines

Delta had a smooth Thanksgiving travel season, and is expecting 9 million travelers between December 21 and January 7.

Delta said it only canceled 12 flights during the Thanksgiving travel period. The carrier said it recommends travelers arrive to the airport at least three hours before their flights, and to potentially arrive even earlier on December 21 and December 22 and between December 26 and December 30. 

United Airlines

United said it expects 2023 to be its busiest holiday travel season ever, with approximately 9 million passengers flying with it between December 21 and January 8. 

It expects December 22 and December 23 to be the busiest days for outbound travel, estimating it will see one million travelers during the two days. For New Years, United said it anticipates January 2 will be the busiest day, with around 525,000 travelers. 

Given the high volume of travelers, and the chance of extreme weather, United said it is also deploying 150 de-icing trucks to prepare aircraft in the event temperatures drop. The carrier also noted that it expects to have around 15,000 new hires, which include flight attendants, pilots, customer service agents and ramp workers, by the end of the year to assist with operations. 

Southwest Airlines

At a Wings Club event in New York this week, according to CNBC, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan vowed that a meltdown like last year’s would never happen again.  

The carrier said it’s purchased more de-icing trucks and high-powered heaters following last year’s meltdown. Southwest also invested billions in updating its IT infrastructure, which was heavily criticized last year. 

In its third-quarter earnings call, Southwest chief operating officer Andrew Watterson the carrier carried out planning exercises with staff involving winter weather scenarios to prepare for the season. 

Southwest recently updated its fourth quarter guidance, and said bookings for November and December have so far performed at the better-end of expectations. 


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Tags: american airlines, delta air lines, southwest airlines, united airlines

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