Traveling this Week? Be Prepared!

Traveling this Week? Be Prepared!

C.G. Hoffman

If you’ve been planning a little getaway for next week, consider yourself warned: The last week of December is one of the busiest both in the air and on the road. Last year’s holiday travel season was a record disaster, with 2 million travelers stranded by Southwest Airlines alone. Just this week, the airline was ordered to pay travelers affected by last year’s debacle $140 million, in a settlement ordered by the Transportation Department.

The AAA has forecast that in the coming week, over 150 million people will hit the road, traveling more than 50 miles to visit family and friends, an increase of 2% over last year. The busiest days for road travel are expected to be this Motzei Shabbos, December 23, and Thursday, December 28, when the roads are predicted to be at their most congested.

Officials are cautiously optimistic for this year, as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, says “So far, 2023 has seen the lowest cancellation rate in the last five years.” Cancellations had surged last year, due to a combination of winter weather and a stronger than expected comeback after the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s flight cancellations have been nearly half of last year’s, at 1.2% of US flights. However, even if cancellations are lower, expect flights to be packed, with longer than usual lines, and heavier than usual competition for space in overhead bins for carry on luggage.

Since last year’s travel mishaps, airlines have been hard at work at preventing other failures. US airlines have hired thousands of additional pilots, flight attendants, and other staff. Most importantly, the FAA announced that it has hired and trained many more air traffic controllers, after airlines complained they had to cut down on flights due to severe understaffing at the agency. The lack of qualified air traffic controllers, whose numbers are managed exclusively by the FAA, was also blamed for the numerous delays which were caused by runway traffic, with some planes stuck on the runways for hours.

One more important factor in holiday travel has yet to arrive on the scene: rough weather. Southwest Airlines blamed last year’s fiasco on historic blizzards, which paralyzed much of the Northeast with record high snowfall and powerful wind gusts. So far, the weather has been mild for 2023, but if the mild weather will extend over the busy holiday travel season remains to be seen. 

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