The TSA screened almost 3,000,000 people on Thanksgiving Sunday, Nov. 26. It heralds the busiest day on record for flights in America, with only .5% of the 51,332 scheduled flights canceled. Surprisingly, the TSA broke its record for the second time this year, with Friday, June 30, seeing 2.9 million travelers fly to various parts of the country for Fourth of July celebrations.
A Busy Thanksgiving Flight Map
Air travel watchdog Flightradar24 released an image on X this week showing a flight map of North America, with thousands of airplane icons covering almost every square mile of the country and its northern neighbor, Canada.
Furthermore, encouraging details have emerged regarding cancellations, with no single airline grounding more than 1% of its flights that day — Sun Country Airlines had zero cancellations this year; even Jet Blue only canceled one flight.
A Thanksgiving Success Story
Aviation blogger Brett Snyder posted his summary of the day's travel, stating that between Thanksgiving Thursday and late Sunday afternoon, only 164 flights from a possible 127,420 were canceled. What's more, most successful flights took off within 14 minutes of their departure time, with Delta Airlines hitting 90% of its schedule objectives — Spirit Airlines was lowest rated, with 72% of flights leaving on time.
Most aviation experts believed 2023's Thanksgiving period would be the busiest in nearly two decades, and they were right. Thankfully, the successful travel period bodes well for the coming Christmas holidays, but what must travelers be aware of this December?
Last Year's Christmas Heartbreak
Last year's winter holiday was one to forget: thousands of heartbroken tourists lost their Christmas as snow storms engulfed the land. Reports last year that more than 6,000 flights never took off in the days leading up to Christmas will live long in the memory for some.
Anybody flying from Chicago O'Hare, Denver International, and LaGuardia in New York in 2022 will be wary of what will come this year. You may recall the images of families forced to sleep overnight on hard airport floors. However, their suffering didn't end there; Southwest Airlines canceled 17,000 flights in total, according to the New York Times.
Airlines Are Much Better Prepared
Southwest spokesman Andrew Watterson says the company has learned from last year's debacle, which cost the airline over $1 billion, even bringing criticism from Congress and other government groups. Watterson himself had to face U.S. lawmakers over the controversy.
“We are now so much better prepared,” said the executive in an interview this month. He cited investment in updated data systems, de-icing trucks, and de-icing pads across its network of airport locations. Watterson also made assurances that company staff received training for frost and sub-zero conditions, namely in Denver and Chicago, where the snow caused most problems.
Plan Your Journey Ahead
Nevertheless, air travel is expected to increase this Christmas from last year's predicted 113 million travelers. Fortune suggests up to half of all Americans will travel between Thanksgiving and the middle of January. So, this winter, people are encouraged to check weather reports before flying, plan, and factor in a backup strategy if their flights are canceled.