Global Flight Cancellations Rise to More Than 6,000 in Disastrous Christmas Holiday

Will Thanksgiving Air Travel Be Chaotic like Summer’s Busy Season?




Lost baggage.

Luggage being stacked in airports, with airlines sending empty planes overseas just to retrieve passengers’ bags.

Canceling hotel reservations. Making new hotel reservations. Booking flights. Rebooking flights.

Call it the oxymoronic Year of Redemption and Frustration for the airline industry.

It was a chaotic Spring and Summer for the airlines as the demand to fly came roaring back following two years of the pandemic, and it caught an industry thinking it likely had at least another year or two before a full recovery grounded, for lack of a better term.

The misdiagnosis on recovery combined with a pilot shortage combined with an overall staffing shortage after so many layoffs at the height of the COVID-19 care in 2020 and 2021 had airlines scrambling – and on the defensive from criticism both from Congress and the flying public – over what appeared, in retrospect, to be shoddy decision-making.

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According to the Regional Airline Association (RAA), 76 percent of U.S. airports have been impacted by the pilot shortage, with more than 500 regional aircraft parked and an “associated air service retraction at 324 communities.”

Now an eager, yet apprehensive, group of travelers awaits the next big test with the same question:

Are we looking at similar chaos and conundrum kind of situation in the coming week for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, which marks the first big flying travel period since Labor Day and the end of summer?

The general consensus seems to be that, when isn’t Thanksgiving busy? But the airlines seem to think that, aside from weather delays, the last three months have been beneficial in utilizing new efficiencies.

“Look, there were real hiccups over the summer,” Nick Calio, CEO of the industry trade group Airlines for America told “But I also think things got real better as the summer went along.”

Still, oxymoronic is the right word here. The airlines are grateful, of course, that business has returned far sooner than expected. But it’s been a Catch-22 – they simply have not had the staffing in place to deal with the unexpected amount of flyers. Not that it’s out of the ordinary compared to previous years; it’s just about the same as it was pre-pandemic in 2019, according to figures from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and it’s been robust, to be sure. But it’s caught airlines short-handed, leading to problems.

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Crowd of people waiting to board their flight at the airport (photo by Eric Bowman)

Will it happen again during one of the biggest flying periods in the country?

That’s the concern, despite airlines’ efforts to mitigate the problems by chopping dozens – and in some cases, hundreds – of flights off their respective fall schedules. According to automotive and travel club AAA, 54.6 million Americans are expected to travel over the holiday period, with air travel seeing a nearly eight percent increase over 2021.

With that many people on the move, airports are sure to be hectic, but CEO Jeff Klee has a few tips to help avoid holiday flight problems and ensure smooth travels.

“Scheduling the first flight of the day is a great way to avoid flight delays. Studies show that the first flights of the day are more likely to leave on time, and arrive on time,” Klee said.

Others are still taking a wait-and-see approach.

Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, one of the government’s vocal, public critics of the airline industry, said he believes the operations have vastly improved since the spring and summer.

“As we get ready for Thanksgiving and then the winter holiday travel season, we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said on NBC News, according to Forbes.

But how bad is the potential for air travel during the holidays? Well, let’s put it this way. In a world where you can gamble on just about anything, there is a 2-to-1 best proposition that Alaska Airlines is the favorite to cancel the most flights this week according to BetUS. JetBlue is the longshot with 9-to-1 odds at having the most cancellations, according to Forbes.

“You can even bet an over/under on the total number of canceled flights as easily as you can bet the over/under on the total points scored on the Thanksgiving football games,” says Barry Barger, senior betting analyst at BetUS.

So, in the end, flying over Thanksgiving appears to be a game of change. What are the odds?

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