Thanksgiving travel hurdles: Surge in demand, airline staffing woes could have impact

Airlines brace for bumpy holiday travel season amid labor shortage

The airline industry raises concerns over ramping up flight schedules to meet the demand. FOX Business’ Grady Trimble with more. 

The Thanksgiving travel rush is already underway, with U.S. fliers flocking to airports and millions of drivers expected to fill highways. 

The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts that more than 53.4 million people will travel this year, in what will be the highest single-year increase since 2005.

Travel for the holiday, AAA noted, is up 13% from 2020, bringing volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels.

THANKSGIVING TRAVEL RUSH: TSA SAYS IT'S PREPARED TO HANDLE ESTIMATED 20M PASSENGERS

Some 48.3 million people are expected to drive, 4.2 million will travel by air, and another million will travel by bus, train or cruise ship. 

Air travel has almost completely recovered, the organization said, up 80% over last year.

"This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year," Paula Twidale, AAA Travel senior vice president, said. "Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday."

Travelers are stuck in a traffic jam as people hit the road before the busy Thanksgiving Day weekend in Chicago, Nov. 21, 2017. (REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski/File Photo)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it expects to screen about 20 million passengers during the Thanksgiving holiday.

The busiest days are typically the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward. 

While travel volume this year is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels when nearly 2.9 million individuals were screened at TSA security checkpoints nationwide, the agency said it is expected to be notably higher in the time leading up to Thanksgiving.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
UAL UNITED AIRLINES HOLDINGS, INC. 46.11 -1.32 -2.78%
DAL DELTA AIR LINES, INC. 39.69 -0.43 -1.07%
AAL AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP, INC. 19.28 -0.11 -0.57%
LUV SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. 46.83 +0.46 +0.99%

"We anticipate that travel may be very close to pre-pandemic levels this holiday, and we are staffed and prepared for the holiday travelers. We have deployed technologies that enhance detection capabilities and reduce physical contact, and it’s equally important that passengers are prepared with travel tips for the most efficient checkpoint experience," TSA Administrator David Pekoske said. "With overall vaccination rates improving nationwide and greater confidence in healthy travel, there will be more people traveling so plan ahead, remain vigilant and practice kindness."

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All of this comes as forecasters predict a pre-Thanksgiving storm will bring rain and some snow to the Northeast and Midwest.

FOX Weather meteorologists, however, said there will not be major impacts on travel from the storm system.

The airline industry has floundered in recent months as some workers pushed back on vaccine mandates and staffing shortages, and bad weather caused thousands of canceled and delayed flights.

The issues have raised questions about whether airlines were prepared to handle the upcoming holiday season, although industry leaders have assured that they are. 

A Lufthansa flight pulls up to the gate as it arrives from Munich, Germany at Miami International Airport, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky / AP Newsroom)

Major U.S. airlines are offering staff incentives to work during peak holiday travel times.

Southwest Airlines told FOX Business that it's rolling out its Holiday Incentive Program that rewards eligible operational employees with Rapid Rewards Points. The points, which are redeemable for travel, are the carrier's way of thanking workers for "their dedication to serving our customers during this special time of year," according to Southwest. 

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American Airlines announced earlier this month that it was offering flight attendants a one-time holiday pay premium. 

Major U.S. carriers are on track to hire around 4,200 pilots this year and more than 9,000 next year, according to FAPA.aero and The Wall Street Journal.

FOX Business' Danielle Genovese contributed to this report.

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