Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, joins ‘Squawk Box’ to discuss whether airlines are ready for the expected surge in holiday travel. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO: https://cnb.cx/2NGeIvi
Travelers are about to find 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 Nov. 28, almost back to 2019 levels. Many of those travelers skipped Thanksgiving trips last year as Covid cases were rising and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against travel during the holiday.
Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said the Sunday after Thanksgiving could be their busiest day since before the pandemic. The airlines forecast this week that between Nov. 19 and Nov. 30, they will fly at least 5.6 million and 4.5 million travelers, respectively.
The increase in travelers is good news for one of the pandemic’s most battered industries. But some airlines have at times struggled to fulfill their ambitious schedules, resulting in high numbers of flight cancellations, most recently at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
Getting the balance right is crucial as airlines try to return to profitability, facing challenges from higher fuel prices and new lockdowns in parts of Europe.
Those carriers canceled more than 2,000 flights apiece in less than one-week periods this fall. Delays and cancellations have vexed travelers who have complained about hours-long waits to speak to customer service with hold times sometimes exceeding the duration of their flights.
Staffing shortfalls have been a major challenge for airlines, which encouraged thousands of workers to take leaves of absence or early retirement to cut the carriers’ payroll during the pandemic. Now they are racing to hire pilots, reservations agents, flight attendants and other workers. Sick calls have also contributed to disruptions.
Lower staffing levels make it harder for airlines to recover from routine problems like bad weather.
“It’s going to be a busy holiday season,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said at The Skift Aviation Forum on Wednesday. “We’re ready for it.”
The carrier expects to fly about 5,000 flights a day during Thanksgiving week with a schedule that’s just 8% below what it flew during that period in 2019.
American is offering flight attendants 50% higher pay for working holiday trips and up to triple pay for those flights if they also meet attendance goals through early January. The Fort Worth-based carrier has also dangled $1,000 holiday attendance incentives to other staff, including at its regional airline subsidiaries. American Airlines pilots’ union rejected the company’s offer for as much as double pay for holiday trips, arguing the airline needs to make permanent changes to its scheduling.
“The planes should be up in the air, not the schedules,” said Allied Pilots Association spokesman Dennis Tajer.
Southwest, for its part, has offered staff frequent flyer miles worth more than $1,400 for meeting attendance goals over the holidays, through early next year.
From the TSA:
TSA expects surge in travel volume for Thanksgiving, stresses importance of preparedness
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects airport security checkpoints nationwide will be busy during the upcoming Thanksgiving travel period, which runs from Friday, Nov. 19, through Sunday, Nov. 28, and the agency is prepared to handle the increase in passenger volume for the holiday. TSA expects to screen about 20 million passengers during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“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,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “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.”
Typically, the busiest days during the Thanksgiving travel period are the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward. The highest travel day in TSA’s history was the Sunday after Thanksgiving of 2019 (pre-pandemic), when nearly 2.9 million individuals were screened at TSA security checkpoints nationwide. Travel volume this year is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels, but it is expected to be notably higher in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
The best way to ensure a smooth trip through the security screening process is to arrive early and be prepared. Travelers are encouraged to allow time to park their cars or return rental cars, check their bags with their airline, and get their boarding passes before heading to the security checkpoint. TSA recommends travelers getting to the terminal with plenty of time before their scheduled flight.
“I recommend that travelers pay attention to the guidance that the TSA officers are providing at the checkpoint,” Pekoske added. “They may be directing you to a shorter line or guiding you around someone who is moving slowly. And they may be giving you some advice that will lessen the likelihood that you’ll need a pat-down.”
Additionally, travelers should keep these tips in mind:
- Wear a mask. Travelers, TSA personnel, and other aviation workers are required to wear a mask as prescribed by the federal mask mandate. Everyone in airports, bus and rail stations, on passenger aircraft, public transportation, passenger railroads, and over-the-road buses operating on scheduled fixed-routes must wear a mask. If a traveler did not bring a mask, a TSA officer will offer a mask to that individual at the screening checkpoint.
- Pack smart. Prepare for security when packing and ensure that there are no prohibited items in baggage. Know which foods should go into a checked bag. Gravy, cranberry sauce, wine, jam, and preserves should all go into a checked bag, because they are not solids. If you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it or pour it, then it’s not a solid and should be packed in a checked bag. As always, passengers can bring solid foods such as cakes and other baked goods through the checkpoints.
- It’s okay to bring hand sanitizer. TSA is currently allowing travelers to bring one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice. Passengers can expect all containers larger 3.4 ounces will need to be screened separately, which will add some time to their checkpoint experience. Travelers also are permitted to bring alcohol wipes or anti-bacterial wipes in carry-on, checked luggage, or both.
- Enroll in or renew your TSA PreCheck® membership. Individuals who obtained TSA PreCheck five years ago are now able to renew their membership online at a discount. Individuals who do not have TSA PreCheck should enroll now to get TSA PreCheck benefits, available at more than 200 U.S. airports. Travelers enrolled in a trusted traveler program, like TSA PreCheck, do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. TSA PreCheck membership is more valuable now than ever before because it reduces touchpoints during the pandemic and puts travelers in security lines that have fewer travelers and move quicker, which encourages social distancing. To find the trusted traveler program that best suits your travel needs, use the DHS trusted traveler comparison tool.
- Request passenger support. Travelers or families of passengers with disabilities and/or medical conditions may call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours prior to flying with any questions about screening policies, procedures and to find out what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares also arranges assistance at the checkpoint.
- Get your questions answered before you head to the airport. Ask TSA. Travelers can get assistance in real time by submitting their questions and comments to @AskTSA on Twitter or Facebook Messenger. Travelers can also reach the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673. Staff is available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends/holidays; and an automated service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Ensure you have proper ID. Before heading to the airport, travelers should make sure they have acceptable identification. Identity verification is an important step in the security screening process.
- Remain aware. As a reminder, public awareness is key for supporting TSA’s security efforts. Travelers are encouraged to report suspicious activities, and remember: If You See Something, Say Something™. For additional information about TSA’s screening policies, visit www.tsa.gov.
Weather Forecast Map for Thursday, November 25, 2021 (Thanksgiving):