We’re headed for another busy holiday travel season, according to U.S. airline trade organization Airlines for America (A4A).
Newly released A4A data projects that 51 million passengers are expected to fly globally on U.S. airlines over the 21-day winter holiday travel period from Friday, December 15 through Thursday, January 4, approximately a 3.5 percent increase over the 49.3 million estimated to have flown last year.
Airlines will offer 91,000 additional seats per day across their networks to accommodate the 80,000 additional daily passengers expected to travel over the holidays, by adding flights and utilizing larger planes. U.S. airlines have boosted staffing levels for 47 consecutive months and are expected to do so throughout the holiday period to accommodate the millions of holiday travelers. A4A said it attributes the growth in demand to an improving economy and sub-inflation airfares.
“With affordable fares and expanded route options, flying to see family, friends and loved ones this holiday season is more accessible than ever before,” said A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich in a written release. “Intense competition within the airline industry is enabling passengers to choose the flights that most closely match their preferences and budgets.”
Heimlich noted that 88 percent of passengers traveling in U.S. domestic markets in 2016 could choose among carriers other than American, Delta and United (and their merged predecessors), up from 65 percent in 2000. Additionally, recently released government data shows that airline investments in equipment, systems and staffing continue to pay off for travelers, who are benefitting from better service when they take to the skies.
“In recent months, notwithstanding the impact of severe weather events such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, flight completion and on-time arrival rates remained high, while reports of mishandled baggage and involuntary denied boardings plunged to their lowest ever recorded. These recent developments bode well for the winter holiday flyer,” said Heimlich.
A4A said it expects the busiest travel days of the 21-day period to be Thursday, December 21, Friday, December 22 and Tuesday, December 26, while the lightest travel days are expected to be Saturday, December 16, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Passenger volumes are expected to vary widely, ranging from just below 2 million on the lightest days to more than 2.7 million on the busiest. In 2016, U.S. airlines carried an average of 2.25 million passengers per day.
Airport Security Updates
Over the busy Thanksgiving air travel period, A4A said that U.S. airlines worked collaboratively with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ensure the safety and security of millions of passengers and crew members who were screened at TSA checkpoints before continuing onto their departing flights. According to the TSA, 98.1 percent of all passengers waited less than 20 minutes in a checkpoint line and 99.2 percent of passengers who were in a TSA PreCheck lane waited less than 10 minutes in a checkpoint line.
“Safety is always the airlines’ first priority,” said Billy Nolen, A4A senior vice president, safety, security and operations. “The U.S. airlines are committed to working with the Transportation Security Administration to ensure that every passenger has an efficient screening experience, while maintaining the highest standard of security throughout the upcoming holiday travel season.”