Even in normal times, the days around Thanksgiving are a delicate period for the airlines. But this week is the industry’s biggest test since the pandemic began, as millions more Americans — emboldened by vaccinations and reluctant to spend another holiday alone — are expected to take to the skies than during last year’s holidays.
The Transportation Security Administration said it expected to screen about 20 million passengers at airports in the 10 days that began Friday, a figure approaching prepandemic levels. Two million passed through checkpoints on Saturday alone, about twice as many as on the Saturday before last Thanksgiving.
Delta Air Lines and United Airlines both said they expected to fly only about 12 percent fewer passengers than they did in 2019. And United said it expected the Sunday after Thanksgiving to be its busiest day since the pandemic began 20 months ago.
The pent-up travel demand has elevated the cost of tickets. Hopper, an app that predicts flight prices, said that the average domestic flight during Thanksgiving week was on track to be about $293 round-trip this year, $48 more than last year — although $42 cheaper than in 2019.
While the industry is projecting optimism about easy traveling, the influx of passengers has injected an element of uncertainty into a fragile system still recovering from the pandemic. Some airlines have experienced recent troubles that rippled for days — stymying travel plans for thousands of passengers — as the carriers struggled to get pilots and flight attendants in place for delayed and rescheduled flights, a task complicated by thin staffing.