US carriers are expected the move a massive 51 million passengers — more than the population of some countries —over the 21-day Christmas holiday travel period.
And the bad news for travelers looking for any hope of avoiding the Christmas crush is that they will need to travel on least desirable days: Christmas Eve, Christmas day and New Year’s Eve
The forecast by airline lobby group A4A is up 3.5 per cent on last year’s 49.3 million and airlines will daily offer 93,000 additional seats between per day and boost staffing to accommodate the additional 80,000 passengers per day.
The holidays begin December 15 and go through to January 4, with Thursday December 21, Friday December 22 and Tuesday December 26 the busiest days.
Passenger volumes are expected to vary widely from less than 2 million on the lightest days to more than 2.7 million on the heaviest.
But airlines are hoping to emulate the successful Thanksgiving period by working with the US Transport Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection to reduce wait times at security checkpoints.
The TSA reported that 98 per cent of passengers waited less than 20 minutes in a security checkpoint line over Thanksgiving and members of its pre-check program waited less than 10 minutes.
“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,’’ chief economist John Heimlich said. “These recent developments bode well for the winter holiday flyer.”
A4A attributed the increase in Christmas passengers to the improving US economy and “sub-inflation” fares.
“With affordable fares and expanded route options, flying to see family, friends and loved ones this holiday season is more accessible than ever before,” Heimlich said. “Intense competition within the airline industry is enabling passengers to choose the flights that most closely match their preferences and budgets.”
North American airlines are the world’s most profitable and are expected to account for almost half of forecast global airline profits of $US38.4 billion next year.
The International Air Transport Association said recently that strong market conditions were expected to see net profit at North American carriers rise from $US15.6 billion in 2017 to $US16.4 billion next year, despite rising costs.,
Despite the consolidations that have swept the US industry, Heimlich argues 88 percent of passengers traveling in US domestic markets in 2016 could choose among carriers other than the three dominant carriers, American, Delta and United.
He said this was up from 65 percent in 2000 and recent investment by airlines was producing better service for passengers.