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Holiday travel rush in full swing as airports brace for record-breaking crowds

Airlines prepare for record travel
Airlines prepare for record 39 million passengers this holiday season 03:08

As the holiday season shifts into high gear, millions of Americans are embarking on their travel plans, potentially setting new records for both air and road travel. According to AAA, this year's holiday travel volume may surpass even pre-pandemic levels.

Airports are bracing for an influx of almost 3 million passengers daily through the holiday period, marking a 16% spike from last year. The Transportation Security Administration is preparing for over 2.5 million people at airports Thursday alone, anticipating one of the busiest periods of the holiday rush.

Travelers like the Tong family, who are heading to Montana to ski, expressed hope for on-time departures despite recent wet weather nationwide.

"We have not had any flight delays yet, or cancellations yet," said Winnie Tong.

Other travelers like Kristen Larson said they chose to travel earlier. 

"We decided to fly a little earlier this year, not cut it so close," Larson said.

Airlines anticipate over 39 million passengers during the two-week winter holiday, a notable increase from last year. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby remains confident about handling the holiday rush.

"Unless there's really, really bad weather, the holidays will go well across the board, both at United and for the industry at large," said Kirby. "We staff up and we have more spare reserve. Reserves are mostly for flight crews. So pilots and flight attendants to accommodate anything that happens during those peak demand periods."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he also sees improvements in airline performance compared to last year, attributing it to heightened pressure on airlines to enhance customer service and operational robustness. Southwest was recently ordered to pay a record fine after 17,000 flights were canceled last year as a winter storm paralyzed Southwest operations in Denver and Chicago and then snowballing when a crew rescheduling system couldn't keep up with the chaos.

"We've seen the airlines step up after we put a lot of pressure on them last year, both in terms of their customer service commitments and in terms of their performance," said Buttigieg. 

In New York on Wednesday, travelers could be seen waiting in line at LaGuardia Airport's Terminal C to check their luggage and make it through security. On Thursday morning, the airport posted on social media saying its parking lot was starting to fill up. Meanwhile, the FAA says it's creating more air traffic routes, especially along the East Coast, to help keep planes moving over the holidays. 

However, the holiday travel season is not just busy in the skies. Roads are expected to also be congested, with AAA predicting nearly 104 million people traveling by car. 

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