Thanksgiving-like congestion will regularly plague airports much sooner than expected -- decades sooner, in the case of some of the busiest and most vital hubs in the nation, says the U.S. Travel Association.
The association released new data showing that traffic projections for major U.S. airports are even more dire than previously thought, owing to the steady increase in travel demand coupled with continued chronic underinvestment in infrastructure.
The "Thanksgiving in the Skies" study, which measured how soon the average day at U.S. airports would resemble the Wednesday before Thanksgiving -- notoriously one of the most strenuous air travel days of the year.
The U.S. Travel analysis focused on the top 30 U.S. airports, which accounted for more than 70 percent of all the passenger enplanements in 2013.
- In 2013, six of the 30 largest U.S. airports were already experiencing congestion levels equal to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving one day per the average week. This year, the number of airports already at that congestion level has more than doubled to 13.
- All 30 airports in the study will now experience Thanksgiving-like congestion one day per week within the next six years.
- Twenty airports will reach Thanksgiving congestion levels two days per week within five years.
- Twenty-six of the 30 airports will reach daily Thanksgiving-like passenger congestion sooner than expected.
- Newark Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Honolulu International Airport will start to experience Thanksgiving-like traffic two days per week next year, all sooner than expected. Logan International Airport in Boston now gets there in 2016.
- Every day at Chicago Midway Airport and McCarran International in Las Vegas will feel like Thanksgiving beginning next year -- both about a decade sooner than previously forecast.
"If you hate traveling around Thanksgiving because of the crowds and chaos, unfortunately we're well within sight of a time when it's going to be like that every time you head to the airport," said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow.
"Political leaders need to understand the magnitude of this problem. It's not just flyers who suffer because our air travel system cannot keep up with demand-it's the entire U.S. economy," Dow said.
"The U.S. air travel system was once the envy of the world, but now there is not a single U.S. airport ranked in the top 25 worldwide. Major investments in air travel infrastructure are desperately needed to restore service to even basic levels of adequacy, let alone cope with the expected coming demand."
In the next 10 years, air travel is forecast to grow from 826 million to almost 950 million enplanements per year globally. In the U.S., travel growth has the potential to add billions in travel spending and support more than a million new American jobs, U.S. Travel said.
U.S. Travel notes that research found that Americans are actively avoiding taking trips because of flying hassles. Air travel problems caused by poor infrastructure caused U.S. consumers to skip 38 million trips in 2013, costing the economy $35.7 billion.