Christmas travel: How major US airlines are handling passenger demand

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A flood of Christmas travelers is expected to pass through airports nationwide as soon as this Wednesday and Thursday, kicking off the final stretch of the hectic holiday travel season. 

Over 54 million people are expected to travel between Dec. 18 and Jan. 3, travel app Hopper projected. To kick off the year-end travel, over 3 million people will be departing daily on Thursday and Friday alone. United Airlines projects that travel for the year-end holidays will be busier than Thanksgiving.

However, major U.S. carriers have told FOX Business that they are prepared to handle the demand, especially after having a successful run during the Thanksgiving travel period. 

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United Airlines 

United told FOX Business that more than 8.3 million people are expected to fly with the airline during the year-end holiday travel period, an increase of 1.9 million people from last year. 

During the Thanksgiving travel period, United said it flew an average of about 413,000 passengers per day. Now, it's projecting that it will see an average of about 440,000 passengers per day for year-end travel. It also expects Jan. 2 to be its busiest day with over 480,000 passengers, beating its post-COVID record of 460,000 daily passengers.

Travelers pass a Christmas tree while heading towards the Terminal C gates at Logan International Airport, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Boston.  (AP Photo/Charles Krupa / AP Newsroom)

The carrier says it will fly an average of 3,700 flights per day but that it has more than 1.3 million seats "to meet this increased demand."  

The airline also said it's "nearing in on hiring 15,000 employees this year" – which includes pilots, flight attendants, ramp workers and customer service agents – to support the increased demand. 

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
UALUNITED AIRLINES HOLDINGS INC.37.98-0.45-1.17%

To prove that it can handle the demand, the carrier said it was able to nab "its second best on-time Thanksgiving travel period ever" on Nov. 22, which was one of its busiest days of the year.  

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American Airlines 

Similarly, American Airlines touted earlier this month that it "operated an exceptional Thanksgiving travel period" and that its team of more than 130,000 employees is prepared for the rush of travel starting this week and lasting through Jan. 2.

Travelers wait in line at an American Airlines counter at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on July 2, 2022.  ( STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

For the 18-day travel period, American has more than 91,000 scheduled flights and expects to carry over 10 million passengers.  

American projects that its busiest day will be Dec. 22 with 5,520 daily departures.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
AALAMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC.12.48-0.33-2.58%

To help, the airline is reminding passengers to check in and clear security 1.5 hours before a domestic departure time and two hours for international flights, with or without bags. 

Southwest Airlines 

Southwest Airlines told FOX Business that its team will operate nearly 3,900 daily flights, on some peak days, across its network of 121 airports in 11 countries this season. 

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To make sure the carrier is reliable during the busy season, it hired more than 17,000 employees over the past year. Over the summer, its total active, full-time equivalent employee count surpassed the number of employees from pre-pandemic levels.  

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
LUVSOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO.36.35-0.91-2.43%

In recent months, the carrier says it has also reached a 99% flight completion factor. 

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Travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on July 2, 2022. (STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

This summer, the carrier also dropped the expiration date for all flight credits to improve the customer experience if disruptions occur. 

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