U.S. Airlines Prepare for Memorial Day Holiday Weekend Travel Surge

By Anna Breuer on 24 May 2023
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An American Airlines 777-300ER en route to London

As Memorial Day weekend draws near – along with the unofficial start of the summer travel season – some ten million air travelers are expected to traverse the nation’s airports’ security checkpoints.

Some 2.6 million are expected to fly on Friday.

The nation’s airlines are promising not to repeat last summer’s travel chaos.   That chaotic situation began a year ago this weekend and continued for several months.

Several airlines didn’t have the crews to operate the flights for which they had sold tickets.  The result was tens of thousands of stranded passengers and literally mountains of unclaimed luggage.  By the Labor Day holiday weekend – the unofficial end of the summer season – some 20% of all flights had been either delayed or cancelled.

The situation improved, until December, when Southwest Airlines suffered what became known as the December meltdown or, more politely, the December scheduling crisis.  The Dallas-based carrier cancelled more flights than usual that month, including 60% of its flights on two days.  The disruption was the most costly and largest in the history of U.S. airlines.

More than 15,000 flights were cancelled by the airline during this time period.

The airlines, meanwhile, are preparing for their biggest test of 2023.  United Airlines is predicting the busiest Memorial Day in a decade, while Delta Air Lines expects 17% more passengers than in 2022.

One step virtually all U.S. airlines have taken is to increase staffing.  The major U.S. airlines have more pilots, more flight attendants, more gate agents, more ramp workers and other ground staff than in previous years.  However, this may not be enough to overcome a shortage of air-traffic controllers in the United States.

The shortage has forced the major carriers to cut their schedules at key airports such as New York’s LaGuardia by 10% and the Biden administration is seeking to enact new rules that would force airlines to compensate passengers with cash for significant delays, similar to EU regulation 261, which covers compensation for long delays and cancellations.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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