The Holiday Travel Rush Is Now the Holiday Travel Blob
Remote and hybrid work has reshaped the typical seasonal rush
There was something curious about the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) data on passenger traffic at airports last month. The Sunday after Thanksgiving was, as usual, very busy, with 2.6 million people screened at security checkpoints. That’s the most on any single day since the pandemic began, and evidence that many people are back to traveling again. But other historical patterns didn’t hold. The Friday before Turkey Day, almost a week ahead of the holiday, was busier than the equivalent day in 2019 and almost as busy as the day before the holiday—traditionally the peak travel day of the year. People are traveling again, but not in the ways they previously did.
Airlines had predicted that Thanksgiving travel would be weird. Between pent-up travel demand, sky-high ticket prices and flexible work-from-home schedules, some people chose to fly at different times than in previous years. And carriers are forecasting similar pattern-breaking travel during the December holidays, stretching from now through Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and past New Year's Day.
"The bookings are a little bit different this year," said Andrew Nocella, United Airlines' executive vice president and chief commercial officer, in an October call with investors. "They're more spread out across multiple days than they were in the past."
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