How airlines are preparing for busiest holiday travel rush ever in 'record setting year'

ByKelly McCarthy via GMA ABCNews logo
Thursday, November 16, 2023
What to know about the holiday travel season
AAA Northeast's Robert Sinclair Jr. joins Mornings @ 10 to discuss the upcoming holiday travel season.

Americans are on pace for record setting holiday travel this season, and while all the major airlines say they're ready, passengers don't want a repeat of last year.

Airlines and airports across the U.S. have started to brace for what's expected to be the busiest holiday travel rush ever.

Nick Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, formerly known as Air Transport Association of America, told "Good Morning America" that "this is shaping up to be a record setting year."

VIDEO: Historic holiday travel season in the air and on the roads: AAA

AAA says more people are expected to take to the air and roads this Thanksgiving holiday.

The Transportation Security Administration said it expects to screen 30 million passengers between Nov. 17-27, or approximately 2.7 million passengers per day, up 10% from the same time last year.

Over the holiday travel rush last year, there were widespread flight cancellations and massive meltdowns that left thousands stranded.

So far this year, cancellations have dropped dramatically, down to just 1.6% of flights. But delays have ticked up to their highest level in a decade, affecting around 1 in 5 flights, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which has been largely led by discount airlines such as JetBlue, Frontier, and Spirit.

Consumer complaints about airlines have also soared, with nearly double the amount in the first three months of 2023, compared to the same time last year, according to the Department of Transportation.

Another concern bubbling up ahead of the holidays is a shortage of air traffic controllers. Last week on Capitol Hill, the lead investigator of the National Transportation Safety Board partially blamed the shortage for 23 close calls this year, where planes nearly collided on takeoff or landing.

"While these events are incredibly rare, our safety system is showing clear signs of strain that we cannot ignore," Jennifer Homendy, chair of the NTSB, said in a statement at the time.

A traveler uses a kiosk to check in the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, in Terminal E at Logan International Airport, in Boston.
(AP Photo/Steven Senne/FILE)

David Seymour, COO of American Airlines, told ABC News this week, "We certainly need to see more air traffic controllers in place. We're managing through the events on good days like we're having today -- we just have to be mindful that when weather hits certain parts of the country, there are going to be constraints."

Still, with the holidays looming, airlines believe they're ready and have hired on tens of thousands of new employees.

American Airlines has both expanded its schedule for the busy holiday period and enlisted larger planes to handle the high volume of travelers.

"We're going to carry more customers than we ever have before, about a half a million more than last year," Seymour said.

United has also added more than 550,000 seats to meet the increased demand of the holidays.

"My No. 1 recommendation to people would be pray for good weather. That is always the key," Calio told "GMA." "Get to the airport early. If you don't have your airlines app, get it, because you get constant notifications about your gate, any delay, any type of cancellation or anything like that."

While each airline is different, if passengers do run into issues this season, the DOT has a dashboard where travelers can read what each airline will give you if the delay or cancellation is their fault.