Holiday travel numbers expected to spike to pre-pandemic levels this Thanksgiving

Be ready to wait, experts warn, as airlines deal with high volumes in wake of massive pandemic layoffs

The TSA expects to screen 20 million passengers between now and the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 20 million passengers between Friday and the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

That is still less than before the pandemic, but significantly higher than recent months.

Long lines and crowded airports are holiday traditions expected to make a comeback this year. Experts warn to call ahead, prepare for possible cancellations and delays and expect crowds.

“The TSA is processing about double as many people as they were this time last year,” said Willis Orlando with Scott’s Cheap Flights, which is a flight alert service. “The numbers are quickly approaching what they were in 2019.”

Starting Friday, airports are expected to see holiday travel numbers they have not seen in two years.

TSA is preparing to screen 2.21 million people on Tuesday (Nov. 23) and Wednesday (Nov. 24), the two days before Thanksgiving.

Agents expect nearly 2.4 million travelers on Sunday (Nov. 28) after Thanksgiving, but Orlando said massive layoffs of airline workers caused by the pandemic will likely result in longer lines and crowded flights.

“The one thing we can all take solace in is airlines know that the demand is coming every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “Those are busy times to fly, so they really tried hard to rebuild their crews in time for the holidays.”

Travelers prepare for flights at Jacksonville International Airport. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

There have been several instances of unruly passengers throughout the pandemic. Orlando said with crowded planes tensions may be high.

“If you see an incident, do your best as a fellow passenger to help simmer it down,” Orlando said. “Sometimes you have more leverage. You’re more sympathetic than an airline agent might be. Nobody wants things to get out of control because that means the plane may be forced to stop and push everybody back on their schedules.”

In October, Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 2,000 flights. Over Halloween weekend, American Airlines canceled another 2,000.

Orlando suggests if you plan to travel over the next week, to frequently check the status of your flight online or through an app.

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