Holiday Fliers Told to Expect Long Lines

Posted November 12, 2007 2:06 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2007 4:36 p.m. EST

— The airline industry is urging Thanksgiving travelers to get to the airport extra early this year, and to expect longer-than-usual lines at security checkpoints, due to an anticipated 4 percent jump in passenger traffic.

Domestic carriers are expected to fly roughly 27 million passengers worldwide over 12 days beginning November 16, with planes about 90 percent full, the Air Transport Association said Monday.

The anticipated uptick in demand comes as the industry struggles through a year of record-low punctuality. Through September, more than 24 percent of flights arrived late, according to the Transportation Department, the industry's worst on-time performance since comparable data began being collected in 1995.

In an attempt to minimize holiday travel hassles, some big airlines will add as many as 500 seasonal workers - some of whom had been furloughed - to usher fliers through airports, James May, president of the airline association said at a press conference.

Airports, meanwhile, will be prepared to supply additional food and water to planes that get stuck on tarmacs for extended periods, said Greg Principato, president of the Airports Council International-North America. However, Principato urged travelers to consider taking public transportation to airports, since many parking lots will fill up quickly.

"If you always expect the worst, then when (it doesn't come, everyone's) frame of mind will be much more positive," May said.

Travel expert Terry Trippler commended the industry for trying to get out in front of the issue before the holiday onslaught. But - as usual - all it will take is some bad weather to seriously gum up commercial aviation traffic.

"It's difficult at best to have smooth-running operations without weather problems," said Trippler, a longtime watcher of air fares who runs a travel Web site.

The industry anticipates an average of more than 2.5 million passengers a day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday and Monday after the holiday, according to ATA. Average daily passenger traffic this year is roughly 2.1 million, with load factors of about 80 percent.

In 2006, the trade group forecast a 3 percent increase in Thanksgiving passenger demand, compared with a year earlier.

Trippler gave Northwest Airlines Corp. credit for making adjustments in anticipation of the holiday hordes.

Last week, the Minneapolis-based company said it will delay the last two banks of daily flights at its largest hubs - Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul - during peak holiday travel days to help reduce missed connections.

"I've never seen an airline do that before," Trippler said.