Airlines prep for Christmas holiday crush: More flights, bigger planes

December 24, 2015 6:47 am

 Flights are extremely full over the holiday period, with most travellers unable to make changes in their schedule. Photo / AP

Airlines are shifting the timing of thousands of flights, even adding
dozens of redeyes, as they try to avoid delays while hauling millions
of passengers from now through the Christmas weekend.
Success or failure could all depend on the weather and Mother Nature isn’t making it easy on airlines.
and fog in the Northeast caused delays and cancellations Wednesday in
Boston, New York and Washington – the busiest part of the country’s
airspace. Rain in Chicago and Atlanta caused some delays in those cities
too. Severe storms that ripped through Mississippi and Alabama,
however, had little impact on air travel since no major airports are in
those states.
Weather wasn’t the only culprit for travel
headaches. A Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis had clogged roads
around the airport and temporarily blocked access to one of the two
terminals. Passengers were moving through security again as of 4:30
local time.

There were about 5,300 delays and 430 cancellations around
8:15 p.m., according to flight tracking site FlightAware. That’s double
the number of normal cancellations. The majority of flights canceled
were smaller regional jets that carry 50 to 76 passengers. More than
28,000 flights were scheduled for Wednesday and a typical day sees about
150 cancellations and 4,000 delays.
The catch: flights are extremely full over the holiday period, with most travellers unable to make changes in their schedule.
expect about 38 million passengers over a 17-day period spanning
Christmas and New Year’s, an increase of about 3 percent, according to
an industry trade group, Airlines for America. The group says the
average flight could be 90 percent full.
Crowds like that mean
that any hiccup in the system ” delays at a major airport, a technology
glitch ” can ripple across the country and leave tens of thousands of
passengers standing in airport lines.
“The biggest factor is always weather,” said American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein.
storms led to more than 4,300 cancelled flights around Christmas 2012.
This time the Northeast corridor not only should be free of snow and
ice, it should be relatively balmy with temperatures on Christmas Day in
the 60s from New York to Boston. But rain and snow are forecast through
Thursday in parts of the West, and the South and Ohio Valley could see
severe storms before Christmas.
Airlines have been helped
recently by the El Nio pattern that has brought above-average
temperatures to northern states. “We saw that through the Thanksgiving
holiday season, and we’ve seen that through November and December,” said
Steve Hozdulick, Southwest Airlines’ managing director of operational
United posted its lowest flight-cancellation rate
ever for a Thanksgiving week, and Southwest had its best on-time
performance ever for the day before the holiday, which helps reduce
other problems such as lost or delayed bags.
From 9 percent to 19
percent of flights were delayed over the peak five-day Thanksgiving
period, according to tracking service A year earlier,
when the weather was worse, delays ran between 12 percent and 31
Besides the vagaries of weather, airlines in recent
years have done a better job of adjusting schedules for peak holiday
According to Mark Duell of FlightAware, U.S. airlines
added up to 700 flights a day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday
and Sunday, compared with the same days last week. They cut about 4,400
flights on Christmas Eve and 5,700 on Friday, Christmas Day, when fewer
people want to travel, he said.
Delta Air Lines and its Delta
Connection affiliate scheduled 5,253 flights next Sunday, compared with
fewer than 5,000 on a typical winter Sunday. Southwest expected
Wednesday to be its busiest day, with more than 3,800 flights.
peak day was last Friday for American, with 6,900 flights, and United,
nearly 5,000, but both will also operate increased flights each of the
next two Sundays.
Some of the additional flights are late at
night, which gives travelers more options ” and sometimes a lower fare.
American and United successfully used the redeye tactic over
“Hubs like Houston, Chicago and Denver will see
large increases of flights departing after 10 p.m. ” very similar to
what we did over Thanksgiving,” said United Airlines spokesman Charles
Hobart. American added night flights at Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix and
At Delta, some extra flights will connect big cities
that get heavy traffic all the time, while others will go to
warm-weather destinations, said spokesman Morgan Durrant. Delta will
occasionally use bigger planes. Through Jan. 3 there is an Atlanta-Salt
Lake City round trip using a 293-seat Airbus A330 instead of smaller
planes such as Boeing 737s with just 160 seats.
The airlines say they will have enough employees on hand to handle the extra passengers.
Transportation Security Administration is also adjusting staffing, said
spokesman Mike England. Wait times at security checkpoints have
increased this year, and passengers can expect longer delays during the
holidays, he said. Holiday travellers slow the process when they
overstuff carry-on bags, which makes them harder to screen.
travellers are bound to be stressed out. Patience will be a valuable
commodity. Along with portable chargers for phones and other gadgets.

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