Major US carriers expect a busy end-of-year holiday travel season and record passenger figures, topping last year as well as last month’s Thanksgiving holiday period.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines said on 13 December that it expects to carry “nearly 9 million” customers during the period beginning on 21 December through 7 January.

Peak travel days will be 21-22 December and 26-30 December, the airline says. For comparison, during the 10 days around Thanksgiving long holiday weekend at the end of November, the airline carried 6.4 million passengers, it says.


Source: Pittsburgh International airport

Major airlines are gearing up for end-of-year travel rush in the USA 

United Airlines, meantime, is expecting around 9 million passengers, up 12% from the same holiday travel period – which it defines as 17 December through 8 January - last year. On average, the Chicago-headquartered airline will operate nearly 4,000 flights daily, it said on 12 December.

“United expects more people will travel for the Christmas holiday than did for Thanksgiving, the carrier says. “On average, more than 455,000 people will fly United per day between Dec. 22-28, which is about 4% more travelers than what we saw between Nov. 20-26.”

During the end-of-year holidays a year ago, a series of storms caused major headaches for air traffic across the country.

Most airlines recovered quickly but Southwest Airlines – the nation’s fourth-largest carrier – was hamstrung for days by its ageing IT infrastructure an systems which, at one point, had lost track of crews and aircraft.

That nationwide technical meltdown left passengers and employees frustrated and stranded for days, and cost the airline about $800 million in pre-tax profits for the fourth quarter of 2022. It also was the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of shareholders that alleged the company had downplayed the potential for its ageing crew-scheduling software to derail its nationwide operations.

The carrier does not publish its holiday-period travel expectations, but it tells FlightGlobal that “we are very confident in the winter operational preparedness we’ve completed and we’ve already seen positive signs during summer weather disruptions”.

“Southwest has completed many infrastructure and efficiency investments to better support our customers, our people and our operation during extreme winter weather events,” the airline adds.

American Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for information about the holiday travel period.