This Thanksgiving could be the busiest travel season ever

The Thanksgiving travel season is expected to be the busiest ever.

“This year, we are seeing more people flying than ever with fewer cancellations,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a Monday news conference.

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects 30 million passengers will pass through airport security checkpoints between Friday, Nov. 17, and Tuesday, Nov. 28.

The Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the following Sunday are historically the busiest Thanksgiving travel days. The TSA projects Sunday, Nov. 26, could be the busiest travel day, with 2.9 million passengers expected.

“We expect this holiday season to be our busiest ever,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a press release last week. “We are ready for the anticipated volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to make sure we are prepared for this busy holiday travel season.”

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Flight cancellations are down to 1.3 percent so far in 2023, according to preliminary data from the Aviation System Performance Metrics shared by the Biden administration Monday ahead of Buttigieg’s press conference.

That’s down from 2.3 percent in 2022 and the lowest percentage of canceled flights since 2016, when cancellations dipped to 1.2 percent.

Buttigieg touted the Federal Aviation Administration’s progress in bringing in thousands of new air traffic controllers to address the ongoing shortage, warning a government shutdown “threatens to reverse all of this progress.”

“I’m certain that it would lead to more disruptions in air travel,” Buttigieg said.

Congress averted a government shutdown last week ahead of the Nov. 17 deadline.

A government shutdown less than a week before Thanksgiving could have set up a nightmare scenario for travelers because tens of thousands of TSA employees and federal air traffic controllers would have been forced to work without pay until the government reopened, potentially leading to longer wait times and more delays and cancellations.

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If a flight is canceled or significantly delayed this holiday season, Buttigieg reminded travelers they are entitled to a full cash refund if the passenger elects to take a refund rather than rebook.

Since President Biden took office, the Transportation Department has helped to get airlines into over $2.5 billion in refunds, Buttigieg said.

“If an airline lets its passengers down, we are here to hold that airline accountable,” he added.

Unruly passenger incidents, which skyrocketed in the wake of the pandemic, are also down. 

Monthly reported passenger incidents hit 720 in March 2021, dipped to 122 in February and have ticked up slightly to 228 in August, according to FAA Security and Hazardous Materials Safety data.

“I think we can all agree that more than zero is too many,” Buttigieg said, warning harassment of and attacks on aviation workers could result in fines or jail time for the offender.

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