A year ago many of us stayed home or went to small gatherings for turkey, stuffing and Cranberry flavor mom Stambergbut this year the widespread availability of coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. is making more people feel comfortable flying long distances on Thanksgiving.
If you’re among them, prepare for long queues at crowded airports and clogged flights because the early days of the half-empty plane pandemic are long gone.
“You know, we see a lot of people wanting to travel and fly to Thanksgiving this year and make up for what they may have stayed at last year,” said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Digital Insights, which tracks the airline. booking details.
As of November 7, booking for Thanksgiving week flights increased by 78% compared to last year, and they are even slightly ahead of 2019, which is 3.2% more than the level before the pandemic.
“You know, maybe on Thanksgiving again with family and friends there’s excitement. So that, you know, pushes the booking, you know, pretty much, ”Pandya says.
But Panda says that as reservations grow, so do prices.
“We are seeing rising ticket prices because we are seeing high demand for Thanksgiving,” Panda said, as air fares have risen significantly compared to last year’s pandemic deals.
Higher fuel prices are also boosting tariffs, with crude oil prices up 66% this year.
Airlines have experienced operational failures that have led to delays and cancellations of thousands of flights
In recent months, some airlines have experienced problems with handling the rapid recovery in demand for air travel. Southwest, Spirit and American all had operational failures that forced them to delay and cancel thousands of flights.
Some of these delays and cancellations were initially caused by bad weather, but the airline staff was too small and “problems grew” because they had too few pilots and flight attendants to catch up and recover, says Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial pilot. an airline that now works for FlightAware flight tracking company. And she notes that now winter is coming.
“And so it will be interesting to see what airlines will do to cope not only with this huge influx of passengers who want to travel since the Thanksgiving season, but also with what will happen if we have a serious impact on the weather system ‘me? Will we see another crash? ”
Bangs says airlines can’t promise, adding too many flights to meet the increased demand for vacation travel, they still don’t, having too few pilots, flight attendants and other staff to run their operations smoothly when bad weather is imminent. e in winter.
“Because one thing is a collapse in late October,” says Bangs. “But it’s a different matter if you ruin someone’s Thanksgiving or Christmas or make them miss it altogether. This is a completely different level. “
American AirlinesOn November 1, the last operational failure last month, he returned 1,800 flight attendants who were on leave, and another 600 new employees arrived on board on December 1.
In addition, the airline and its flight attendants union have agreed on a bonus payment of 150% of their regular rate to flight attendants working at critical times during the holiday season, and up to a threefold payment, 300%, to flight attendants who do not call patients at all at certain times. periods in November, December and January.
But the American Pilots Union rejected the airline’s offer of a similar pay rise on flights during the holiday season, saying pilots prefer to focus on “significant continuous improvements in the new collective agreement.”
Flight attendants are mentally and physically exhausted and continue to face violence from passengers
American Airlines flight attendant Paul Hartshorn Jr., a spokesman for the Professional Flight Attendants Association, says the pay rise is well deserved.
“It has been really difficult for almost two years for our flight attendants, it has been one blow after another and they are sometimes mentally and physically exhausted,” he told NPR, noting that he and his colleagues continue to face many incidents of verbal and physical violence on flights.
“We were pushed, beaten, pushed to the floor and hit on the armrest on the way down. Indeed, the very serious injuries we are dealing with here. “
On one recent flight, he says, the passenger hit the flight attendant several times in the face, breaking her nose and other facial bones. This passenger has been arrested and charged by federal authorities as the FAA now increasingly transfers these cases to the FBI and the Department of Justice for prosecution.
The FAA has so far received more than 5,100 reports uncontrollable passenger incidents since January, and agency data show that nearly three of the four incidents are related to passengers refusing to wear masks.
On Wednesday, the FAA announced it was offering fines ranging from $ 9,000 to $ 32,000 for 10 passengers for acts of disobedience on flights, including assault.
“Look, the masks are here for the holiday season,” Hartshorn says. “It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to socially distance oneself aboard an airplane. And we have a lot of passengers who don’t have access to the vaccine, we have kids who are only now getting access to the vaccine. “
There may be a shortage of TSA staff to work at checkpoints
Another potential problem for Thanksgiving air travelers is the long queues at airport checkpoints, as there may be a shortage of TSA staff to work at these checkpoints.
Like all federal government employees, TSA workers face November 22 to undergo full vaccination. As of last month, TSA administrator David Pekoske said about 40% of the agency’s 65,000 employees had not yet reported their vaccination status.
Officials say they expect the actual number of unvaccinated officers to be low, and add that those who do not fulfill the mandate will be able to work through vaccine training and counseling, so they do not expect to have a shortage of staff during the holiday season.
“We are watching this. Our goal is to always protect passengers, deliver them safely to their destination, and we will learn more when we get closer to the deadline, ”said Jessica Mail, TSA spokeswoman in Chicago. “Now we’re just focused on encouraging all employees to get vaccinated and collect this information from them when they do.”
Mail also says TSA says it is preparing for the holidays to try to minimize long queues at checkpoints.
“We’ve been hiring all year, this year we’ve hired more than 6,000 officers across the country,” she says.
“We have local teams on the ground (at airports) all over the country … They definitely know the time of day, the flight schedules, the passenger charts they see, and maintain the right level of staff so you don’t see queues beyond what we we can (usually) wait ”.
But since many people may be flying for the first time in a long time, Mail advises travelers to plan ahead and not carry prohibited items in hand luggage, and she advises travelers to arrive at the airport two hours before departure.