Those traveling for the holidays this week should prepare for busy roads, long lines and possible disruptions thanks to effects from a dangerous winter storm.
The Transportation Security Administration has predicted that the number of people flying for the holidays at the end of 2022 will approach pre-pandemic levels. AAA said in a statement that it expects 2022 to be the “third busiest year for holiday travel” since the organization began collecting travel-related data in 2000.
“This year, travel time will be extended due to Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel. “With hybrid work schedules, we are seeing more people take longer weekends to travel, because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible with the days they depart and return.”
In total, AAA estimated that 112.7 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home in the period between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. Most of those people will drive, but around 7.2 million are expected to fly. The Federal Aviation Administration said that nearly 200,000 flights are expected in that same time period. Nearly a quarter of those flights are scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 22, which the FAA predicts will be the busiest travel day of the season. Christmas Day itself will be the slowest day, with less than 30,000 flights scheduled.
The early days of 2023 will also be a busy time for airlines: The FAA said they expect to guide “around 300,000 flights to their destinations safely for the New Year’s holiday,” with nearly 45,000 of those flights set for Jan. 4.
Several airlines have already announced plans for how they will handle a winter storm that is expected to batter parts of the country with blizzard conditions and freezing temperatures, bringing with it the threat of mass delays and cancellations. American Airlines said it is operating in “all hands on deck” mode to make sure that customers can get to their destinations with limited disruptions, and noted that its de-icing teams have been preparing for winter weather “since late summer.” United Airlines said its operations team is monitoring for developments and will “make adjustments … as needed.”
American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and more have already begun offering vouchers to allow customers whose travel plans are affected by the storm to rebook their flights without change fees.
For the approximately 102 million people planning to drive this year, flight schedules and packed airports won’t be a problem, but the storm could create dangerous conditions on the road. AAA recommends those who must travel during severe weather drive carefully and slowly, make sure there’s plenty of gas in the tank and bring extra supplies such as heavy clothing and extra liquids in case of emergency.
While traveling by car and plane are the most popular options this holiday season, they aren’t the only ones: AAA estimated that 3.6 million people will travel by bus, rail or cruise ship, a 23% increase from 2021.