Airline Passengers Turn Out for Memorial Day Holiday Travel Despite Problems

Airline Passengers Turn Out for Memorial Day Holiday Travel Despite Problems

Travelers wait in the airport security line. (photo by Eric Bowman)

Talk about optimism and pessimism for the summer travel season.

Passengers took to the air over Memorial Day Weekend in numbers that rivaled pre-pandemic levels, which bodes well for an aviation industry that is counting on a return to 2019 passenger capacity this summer.

That’s the optimistic part.

What doesn’t bode well is the pessimism over the problems that U.S. carriers encountered on the first big weekend – delays and cancellations due to staffing shortages, pilot shortages and inclement weather.

According to the flight tracking service flightaware.com, there were 546 cancellations and 5,092 delays into and out of U.S. airports on Sunday, May 29. That made a three-day holiday total of more than 1,300 flights canceled and more than 12,000 delayed over three days.

It’s something travel experts say could play out over all three months of summer. In fact, they’re not just anticipating it; they’re counting on it.

“Daily passenger volumes at TSA checkpoints show that people are traveling again, and TSA is ready for their return. Our airport security checkpoints include 47,500 highly-trained security professionals and new technologies that enhance security and reduce physical contact,” Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement earlier this month. “We continue to recruit, retain, train and equip a highly-skilled workforce, and we work continuously with our airport and airline partners to anticipate and prepare for higher traffic patterns.”

But Pekoske also pleaded with passengers when he said, “Please pack added patience.”

Brett Keller, chief executive of the travel website Priceline, told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s going to be very crowded and very expensive.”

And yet, passengers are still traveling. Here is how the numbers for the Thursday through Sunday time frame of Memorial Day Weekend stacked up with the same dates from 2019, the barometer that officials use to compare the return of travel.

Thursday, May 26: 2,379,860 passengers flown this year vs. 2,485,770 in 2019, or 95.7 percent capacity compared to three years ago.

Friday, May 27: 2,384,721 passengers flown this year vs. 2,570,613 in 2019, or 92.7 percent capacity compared to three years ago.

Saturday, May 28: 1,994,151 passengers flown this year vs. 2,117,180 in 2019, or 94.1 percent capacity compared to three years ago.

Sunday, May 29: 2,096,466 passengers flown this year vs. 2,555,578 in 2019, or 82 percent capacity compared to three years go.

All totaled, 8,855,198 fliers went through TSA checkpoints at U.S. airports for the first four days of the long weekend, compared to 9,729,141. That’s 91 percent of the capacity that flew in 2019.

In the last 22 days, daily passenger traffic has eclipsed 2 million or more fliers on 18 days.

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