The Holiday Travel Crush Has Begun. Are the Airlines Up to It?

There were a lot of flight cancelations. Customer service waitscruciating. Unruly passengers.

The holiday travel season was just around the corner.

The days around Thanksgiving are delicate for the airlines. This week is the industry's biggest test since the Pandemic began, as millions more Americans are expected to take to the skies than during last year's holidays.

The ability of the carriers to pull it off smoothly is a big deal.

It will be the first time many people have gotten together with their family in a long time, so it is very significant. People might rethink travel plans for Christmas if it goes poorly. That is what the airlines don't want.

In the 10 days that began on Friday, the Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 20 million passengers at airports. Two million people passed through the checkpoint on Saturday alone, which is twice as many as on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines both said they would fly less passengers in 2019. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is expected to be the busiest day since the Pandemic began.

Many Thanksgiving travelers seem to be going about their travel routines as usual.

The University of Illinois student, who was flying on United from Chicago to San Francisco on Saturday to visit relatives, said that airports are busy right now and everything seems back to normal. We have to hope that everyone is safe.

The cost of tickets has gone up because of travel demand. The average domestic flight during Thanksgiving week is expected to be $293 round-trip, $48 more than last year, but $42 cheaper than in 2019.

The influx of passengers has injected an element of uncertainty into a fragile system still reeling from the Pandemic. The carriers struggled to get pilots and flight attendants in place for delayed and rescheduled flights, a task complicated by thin staffing, as they experienced recent troubles that rippled for days.

The president and chief operating officer of Southwest Airlines, Mike Van de Ven, said in a lengthy note to customers last that the swine flu was messy going into it, and messy as they fight to emerge from it.

He apologized after Southwest canceled nearly 2,500 flights over a four-day period, nearly 18 percent of its scheduled flights, as a brief bout of bad weather and an equally short-lived air traffic control staffing shortage snowballed.

American Airlines canceled more than 2,300 flights in four days, nearly 23 percent of its schedule, after winds slowed operations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, its largest hub.

American and Southwest have said they are working to address the problems, offering bonuses to encourage employees to work throughout the holiday period, stepping up hiring and pruning ambitious flight plans.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, gave the carriers good marks for their preparation.

After the biggest crisis aviation has ever faced, we are getting demand back.

There has been a lot of good planning. I think that the airlines will be able to handle the demand, even if there is a major weather event.

The T.S.A. said Sunday was as busy as the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2019.

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Thanksgiving travel will be a major test of whether the airline industry is ready to return to normal operations.

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Travelers are at La Guardia Airport. Some got away earlier than usual because of the flexibility of doing jobs or taking classes remotely.

Major airlines have begun to report profits again, but only after taking in billions of dollars of federal aid. While the aid allowed carriers to avoid layoffs, tens of thousands of employees took generous early-retirement packages or volunteered to take extended leaves of absence.

The Pandemic has created new challenges and made ramping back up more difficult. Flight crews have had to contend with overwork and disruptive passengers, leaving them drained and afraid for their safety.

Albert, a flight attendant for American Airlines, said she took an 18-month leave because of the swine flu. She returned to work on domestic routes and saw a difference in passengers.

She said that people are hostile. When I tell them we don't have alcohol on our flights, they act shocked, because they don't know how to wear masks.

The FAA cracked down on unruly passengers earlier this year. In the last seven years, the agency has begun investigations into more episodes of passenger misbehavior. In some cases, the disruptions have caused flights to be delayed or even diverted.

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The New York Times reported on the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Saturday.

The threat of weather during the holiday season is something that the industry struggles with. For the most part, the weather is not expected to cause major disruptions, despite warnings from the forecasters that storm systems were threatening to deliver gusty winds and rain that could interfere with flights.

Jon Porter, the chief meteorologist for AccuWeather, said that the news is good in terms of the weather across the country. The weather will be favorable for travel in many places, and we are not dealing with any big storms across the country.

The travel services organization recommended that airline passengers arrive two hours ahead of departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international destinations during the Thanksgiving travel wave.

T.S.A. staffing at airports could be disrupted by a Monday vaccine deadline, but the agency said those concerns were not true.

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The system is still reeling from the Pandemic. Christopher Lee was a writer for The New York Times.

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Major airlines have just started to report profits again, and only after taking in billions of dollars of federal aid.

The T.S.A. does not anticipate any disruptions because of the high compliance rate, according to R. Carter Langston.

With many people able to do their jobs or classes remotely, some travelers left town early, leading to the busiest travel days before the holiday.

According to its reservation data, 33 percent of holiday travelers booked Thanksgiving flights for last Friday and Saturday. Thirty percent of travelers left on the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving, slightly higher than last year, but down from 35 percent in 2019.

Among those taking advantage of the flexibility was a student at New York University who traveled home to Houston on Saturday. She planned to go on a trip early in the week to get ahead of the crush. She said that the flights are going to be crowded.

Robert and Maria contributed to the report.