Good News for Holiday Travelers
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has taken steps to alleviate pressure on commercial airline routes during the festive period by opening military airspace across the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. Despite heavy downpours from a storm hitting the West Coast, delays have been minimal. So far, approximately 56 out of nearly 44,000 flights scheduled for today have been delayed, accounting for around 0.12%.
Busy Days of Flying
Thursday marked the busiest day of flying with just under 49,000 flights taking off, resulting in 108 flight cancellations, or 0.22%. However, today is expected to be the second-busiest day of the holiday season, and the low delay numbers thus far provide hope for passengers traveling home or going elsewhere for Christmas.
Winter Weather Challenge
Earlier this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warned that winter weather would pose a challenge during the year-end holiday travel period, which is anticipated to be one of the busiest in decades. The storm currently affecting the West Coast is forecasted to bring heavy snow across the central U.S. this weekend. Rain will also intensify, stretching from the Canadian border to the Gulf Coast, on Christmas Eve.
Expedited Air Travel
To expedite air travel, the FAA is allowing commercial passenger aircraft with scheduled departures well in advance to take off first. Private business jets, often scheduling late, will have to wait. Additionally, this year has seen the lowest cancellation rates in five years, even lower than pre-pandemic levels, according to the FAA.
Upcoming Travel Forecast
Officials will rely on down-to-the-minute weather predictions from National Weather Service meteorologists to inform precise arrival and departure routes across the busiest parts of U.S. airspace. AAA estimates released earlier this month suggest that this year’s holiday travel period will see the second-highest level of Americans traveling in over two decades. A projected 115.2 million people will embark on trips at least 50 miles away from their homes from December 23 to New Year’s Day, signifying a 2.2% increase from the previous year.
Positive Contrast to Last Year
Last year, holiday travel for airline passengers was chaotic, resulting in significant delays and cancellations. In response, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently fined Southwest Airlines $140 million for the cancellations of nearly 17,000 flights, leaving over two million travelers stranded. The penalty, the largest in DOT history, will primarily compensate affected Southwest passengers.
With the FAA’s efforts to open military airspace and the relatively low delay numbers this week, holiday travelers can remain optimistic about their upcoming journeys.