Despite a car crash and explosion near Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York, 59 flight cancellations and over 3,000 delays on Wednesday 22 November 2023, Thanksgiving travel in the USA seems to be underway with fewer problems than expected.
Fewer than 4,000 delays is a good day
Many eyes will be on how the system copes. Aviation in the USA has been dogged by recruitment, retention and training issues, an alarming number of near-misses due to human error, and of course, extreme weather events. With that in mind, fewer than 300 cancellations and 4,000 delays per day is currently considered “very good”, according to FlightAware.
For context, the Transport Security Administration screened more than 2.6 million passengers on Tuesday and said Wednesday would see another 2.7 million passengers through airport security. On Sunday, typically the most popular travel day after Thanksgiving, it is anticipating a record 2.9 million passengers for screening.
For the moment, it seems the Federal Aviation Administration’s strategy under US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is working. Thousands of extra hirings of air traffic controllers, increased capacity on the East Coast and subsidies for snow equipment to keep airports moving.
The weather outside is frightful
While airports are coping well in these first days of the holiday, snow could pose a potential problem, according to National Weather Service warnings (as well as the risk of worldwide disruption due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland). Northern Maine, New England, was looking at a forecast of up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snowfall. On the other side of the country the northern Rocky Mountains and Wyoming could get around a foot (30 centimeters) on Thanksgiving Day itself.
To avoid difficulties and stressful queues, airlines such as Delta are advising flyers to arrive at the airport with a two-hour cushion before their flight if it’s for a domestic destination. If flying abroad, allow three hours, or more if travelling on a day known to be a busy choice, such as the Sunday or Monday after the Thanksgiving break.
Trains and automobiles
Vacationers should be aware that the roads too are busy, with the American Automobile Association (AAA) saying that, between Wednesday and Sunday, 55.4 million people will travel at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home. 49.1 million of those are expected to drive to their destination. With the average cost of fuel down on last year by 33 cents on the gallon, more may make that choice.
Some however are taking the train. Amtrak is predicting 750,000 passengers between 19 November and 26 November 2023.