20 million vacationers are anticipated to check airways

Travelers at Los Angeles International Airport hit LAX on Thursday the 18th from the same time last year.

Al Seib | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

Travelers are figuring out whether airlines are prepared for a surge in Thanksgiving passengers.

The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen about 20 million people between Friday and November 28, almost back to 2019 levels. Many of these travelers skipped Thanksgiving trips last year as Covid cases increased and the centers for that Disease control and disease prevention advised against travel during vacations.

Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said the Sunday after Thanksgiving could be their busiest day since before the pandemic. The airlines are forecasting this week that they will fly at least 5.6 million and 4.5 million travelers, respectively, between November 19 and 30.

The surge in travelers is good news for one of the hardest-hit industries in the pandemic. However, some airlines have struggled at times to meet their ambitious flight schedules, leading to a high number of flight cancellations, most recently with American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

Finding the right balance is crucial as airlines seek to return to profitability and face the challenges of higher fuel prices and new lockdowns in parts of Europe.

These airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights apiece in less than a week this fall. Delays and cancellations have annoyed travelers who have complained of hours of waiting to speak to customer service, with waiting times sometimes exceeding the duration of their flights.

Personnel problems

Staff shortages have been a major challenge for airlines, causing thousands of workers to take leave or early retirement to cut airline payrolls during the pandemic. Now they are racing for the employment of pilots, reservations agents, flight attendants and other workers. Sick calls have also contributed to disruptions.

Lower staffing levels make it difficult for airlines to recover from routine problems such as bad weather.

“It’s going to be a busy Christmas season,” said Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, at the Skift Aviation Forum on Wednesday. “We are ready for it.”

The airline expects to fly around 5,000 flights a day during Thanksgiving week, with the flight schedule just 8% lower than what it flew during that period in 2019.

American is offering flight attendants 50% more compensation for working holiday trips and up to three times the compensation for these flights if they also meet their attendance goals by early January. The Fort Worth-based airline has also incentivized other employees, including its regional airlines, for vacation visits of $ 1,000.

American Airlines’ pilots union turned down the company’s offer of up to double pay for vacation travel, arguing the airline must permanently change its flight schedules.

“The planes should be in the air, not the flight plans,” said Allied Pilots Association spokesman Dennis Tajer.

Southwest has offered employees more than $ 1,400 in frequent flyer miles to help them meet attendance goals over the holidays by early next year.

Southwest said it will cut its fourth quarter flight schedule further to avoid disruption, a move American and Spirit Airlines took earlier this year. Flight crews have complained of exhaustion from grueling flight schedules. That adds to the stress of an increase in recalcitrant and violent passenger behavior this year.

The Southwest flight attendants union said vacation incentives were inadequate.

“Please know that your union knows you make more money, and they will continue to remind management that if morals are ever to change, they really need to step back and listen to their staff again,” they wrote last weekend in a message to the members.

The Southwestern Pilots Union said late Friday it had an agreement with the company to offer at least a time and a half for prime vacation travel and double pay for pilots who then pick up open flights.

Margin for error

United and Delta have been more conservative in adding capacity, despite being partially crippled by persistent travel restrictions when compared to more US-facing airlines.

United forecasts it will restore 77% of its capacity in the fourth quarter, while Delta is forecasting 80%, American is 89% and Southwest is forecasting 92%, according to the securities.

United and Delta CEOs have written to clients over the past few weeks reassuring them they can book their trips with confidence, promoting HR strategies and customer service tools.

United CEO Scott Kirby this week struck a blow against his competitors who have stumbled over the past few months.

“We left a margin of error. Don’t be careful that there is a meltdown, “he said at the Skift conference on Wednesday.” I think some of our competitors have eliminated their margin of error in their eagerness to fly a full flight schedule again.

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