Busiest holiday travel season in years is off to a smooth start

December 24, 2023 | by


The busiest holiday travel season in years is off to a smooth start, with minimal airport delays and a lower cancellation rate of U.S. flights compared to previous years. As mild weather and improved operational efficiency have raised hopes for a more seamless travel experience, U.S. airlines are predicting a blockbuster holiday season and have bolstered their staff numbers to accommodate the expected crowds. Despite concerns about the economy, travel has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with the Transportation Security Administration already screening more travelers compared to last year. While bad weather and unforeseen disruptions are always a potential threat, the government has made it clear that they will hold airlines accountable for operating smoothly and treating passengers well. With lower gasoline prices and air fares, combined with increased ticket sales for international travel, it seems that the holiday travel season is well underway.

Busiest holiday travel season in years is off to a smooth start

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U.S. airlines have a smooth start to the busiest holiday travel season

The holiday travel season in the United States is off to a smooth start, with the lowest flight cancelation rates in five years. Despite concerns about bad weather and potential disruptions, U.S. airlines have managed to keep cancelations at just 1.2% of flights so far this year. This is a positive sign for travelers, as last year’s holiday season was marred by delays and suspensions, most notably with the Southwest Airlines incident that left over 2 million people stranded. The airlines have been proactive in hiring additional staff, including pilots and flight attendants, to ensure a seamless travel experience for passengers this year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has emphasized the importance of government accountability in ensuring smooth operations and passenger satisfaction during the holiday season. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has warned that the government will closely monitor airlines and hold them responsible for any disruptions. As part of this commitment to accountability, the Transportation Department recently announced a settlement with Southwest Airlines, in which the airline will pay $140 million for its meltdown last year. This sends a clear message to airlines that they must prioritize the well-being of passengers and maintain reliable service.

Despite the overall positive start to the holiday travel season, there have still been some flight delays. By mid-Friday, fewer than 50 flights were canceled in the U.S., with approximately 1,200 delayed, according to FlightAware. However, these numbers are relatively low compared to previous years, indicating that the airlines are effectively managing any disruptions and minimizing their impact on travelers.

AAA predicts increase in holiday travel

According to AAA, the number of travelers during the holiday season is expected to increase compared to previous years. AAA forecasts that 115 million people in the U.S. will travel 50 miles or more from home between Saturday and New Year’s Day, which is a 2% increase from last year. The busiest travel days are predicted to be Saturday and Thursday, December 28th.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has already experienced high passenger volumes, with more than 2.6 million screenings on Thursday alone. This indicates strong travel demand and suggests that Americans are eager to resume their holiday traditions despite economic concerns. In fact, travel has exceeded pre-pandemic levels this year, with the TSA screening 12.3% more travelers than at the same time last year, and 1.4% more than in 2019.

Factors affecting travel affordability

Several factors contribute to the affordability of holiday travel. One significant factor is gasoline prices. The nationwide average gas price is currently $3.13 per gallon, down 15 cents from a month ago. While prices have increased slightly compared to last year, they are still relatively low, providing some relief to travelers.

Another factor influencing travel affordability is air fares. Average fares in October were 13% lower than the previous year, making air travel more accessible and affordable for passengers. This decrease in fares is likely a result of increased competition among airlines and efforts to attract travelers back to the skies after a challenging period.

Additionally, the inflation rate plays a role in travel affordability. While inflation has been a concern for many Americans, it has recently cooled off slightly. This, combined with lower gas prices and air fares, has contributed to a more favorable outlook for travelers’ budgets.

International air travel rebounding but still below pre-pandemic levels

While domestic travel in the United States has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, international air travel is still recovering. There has been an increase in ticket sales for international arrivals to global destinations between December 21st and December 31st compared to the same period last year. According to travel data firm FowardKeys, airlines have sold 31% more tickets for international travel during this time frame.

However, it is important to note that international air travel is still below pre-pandemic levels. Travel restrictions, varying quarantine requirements, and constantly changing regulations continue to impact the recovery of international travel. Despite the progress made, it will likely take more time for international air travel to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

Northern Europe has experienced some travel disruptions due to a combination of bad weather and labor unrest. A recent storm brought heavy rain and strong winds, causing trees to fall and flooding warnings along the North Sea coast. Additionally, workers at the undersea tunnel between Britain and France went on strike, leading to the cancelation of passenger and vehicle-carrying services. While these disruptions may impact travel plans for some individuals, overall, the holiday travel season remains relatively stable.

Weather outlook for holiday travel

Weather conditions can greatly impact holiday travel, and this year is no exception. According to AccuWeather forecasters, rain storms are expected in the Pacific Northwest and the southern Plains states, including Texas, later in the week. These storms could potentially cause delays and disruptions for travelers in those regions.

However, the outlook is more favorable for the Northeast, which includes key airports and major population centers. Despite the potential rain storms in other parts of the country, travelers in the Northeast can expect better conditions for their holiday journeys.


Being aware of the weather forecast and staying informed about any potential disruptions can help travelers plan their trips effectively and make necessary adjustments to their itineraries if needed.

Summary of recent news articles

In addition to the information provided above, there have been other notable developments and news articles related to holiday travel and the economy. Durable goods orders in the United States rebounded in November, registering the largest gain since July 2020. This indicates positive momentum in the economy and reflects increased consumer confidence.

However, there are concerns about the possibility of a recession. The U.S. leading index signals that the economy could still be headed for a recession, despite the recent rebound in durable goods orders. It is important to monitor economic indicators and trends to better understand the potential risks and challenges that lie ahead.

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In conclusion, the busiest holiday travel season in years has commenced with relatively low flight cancelation rates and strong travel demand. U.S. airlines have taken proactive measures to ensure smooth operations and have been accountable for disruptions, as evident in the recent settlement with Southwest Airlines. Travel affordability has been supported by factors such as lower gasoline prices, reduced air fares, and a slightly cooled-off inflation rate. While international air travel is rebounding, it is still below pre-pandemic levels, and travel disruptions have been experienced in northern Europe. Weather conditions may present challenges for some regions, but overall, travelers can expect a positive holiday travel experience.

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