What to expect for holiday travel

(This is a shortened version of a story we first wrote for NBC News)

This year’s post-pandemic travel boom is continuing into the holidays.

Nearly half (48%) of Americans plan to travel between Thanksgiving and mid-January, up from 31% last winter, a recent Deloitte survey found.

AAA expects 55.4 million travelers to venture at least 50 miles from home during the Thanksgiving period alone, a 2.3% increase from last year.

That means if you’re hitting the roads or the slopes this season, you’ll have lots of company. Here’s what to expect as you pack your bags for a winter getaway.

More affordable airfare

Airline ticket prices are falling even as more Americans intend to fly.

Deloitte found that 33% of holiday travelers plan to take a domestic flight, up from 29% last year. Despite the strong demand, airfares were more than 13% cheaper last month than at the same time a year ago, federal inflation data shows.

Smoother flights?

Airlines and aviation officials sound confident about handling the holiday crush. While major U.S. carriers — including AmericanDelta, and United — expect record passenger numbers this Thanksgiving, many are touting their readiness for the season.

Track records for flight cancellations and missing luggage have improved ahead of the holidays. About 1.7% of flights were canceled during the first eight months of this year. That’s much better than the 3.0% rate for the same eight-month period last year and 2.3% in the comparable stretch of 2019, the Department of Transportation reported.

And in August, the latest month with available data, the mishandled baggage rate dropped to 0.61% from 0.75% the month before.

A broader push to streamline and automate operations “will continue to help curb mishandling as we approach the holiday season,” said Nicole Hogg, head of baggage for SITA, an air transport IT company. But travel experts still suggest adding an AirTag or other digital tracking device to your luggage, especially during busy travel periods.

“Mother Nature will cause some number of cancellations, guaranteed,” said Scott Keyes, the founder of the airfare tracking site Going. But he noted that “cancellations caused by the airlines — the most galling for travelers — are at multiyear lows” and added that many carriers have bulked up on pilots, planes, and staff.

“The entire industry was snakebit from last year’s debacle,” Keyes said, “and airlines have adjusted their operations accordingly.”

Pricier hotel rooms

More holiday travelers plan to stay in hotels this holiday season instead of bunking with friends or family. Deloitte found that 56% plan to stay in hotels, a sharp jump from 35% in 2022.

That could push up room rates, which were already 0.8% pricier in October than the year before.

Jan Freitag, director of hospitality analytics at the commercial real-estate research company CoStar, said this season’s strong travel numbers will likely nudge Christmastime room rates above last year’s levels. In the first full week of November, they were up 4% in the U.S. from the same week a year ago, averaging $156 per night, CoStar said.

Price-conscious Christmas travelers might want to “book early to lock in lower rates, shorten their trips or trade down to a different class of service,” said Freitag, or else take their chances with last-minute reservations. Inventories will be slimmer in the eleventh hour, but hotels may still cut prices on unsold rooms.

Airlines respond to Maui wildfires

The news about the wildfires on the Island of Maui is heartbreaking and frightening.

As of Thursday evening, officials were reporting that the wildfires had killed at least 54 people, with the number expected to rise.

Figuring out how many buildings, trees and other parts of the landscape have been burned is difficiult. But satellite images such as the ‘before’ and ‘after’ image of the historic town of Lahaina shared by Maxar Technologies are offering devastasting images.

Tourists told to get out and stay home

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is telling tourists and visitors who are in Maui to leave. Those with trips planned are being asked to cancel or postpone.

“In the days and weeks ahead, our collective resources and attention must be focused on the recovery of residents and communities that were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses, ” the authority said on it website. “Visitors who have travel plans to visit Maui in the coming weeks are encouraged to consider rescheduling their travel plans for a later time.”

Airlines, others helping out

“The images of Lāhainā burning – enveloped in an impenetrable cloud of black smoke – have been difficult to witness. Our hearts are with our community members, employees and all those devastated by the Maui fires,” Hawaiian Airlines said in a statement, “As Hawaiʻi’s hometown carrier, we pledge to support disaster response efforts until the demanding work of recovery is complete.”

The airline is adding flights to support evacuation efforts, capping ticket prices between Kahului, Maui (OGG) and Honolulu at $19 until August 11, and offering a travel waiver for passengers with tickets to or from OGG through the end of the month.

The airline is also carrying essential cargo such as medical supplies to Maui and donating catering items, amenity kits, mattress pads, pillows and other supplies for evacuees arriving at Kahului Airport.

Other airlines are helping out with evaucation flight and travel waivers too.

Alaska Airlines flew a rescue flight to Maui with relief supplies for local residents – everything from water and food to pillow, blankets, baby formula and diapers. The Seattle-based airline is also helping ot evacute travelers to Seattle and is adding additional rescue flights.

Travel Waivers for Maui

Here are links to the airline travel waiver policies currently in effect for Maui:

Alaska Airlines

American Airlines

Delta Air Lines

Hawaiian Airlines

Southwest Airlines

United Airlines


How to Help

Hawaii Tourism suggests donating money to the Maui Strong Fund.

If you’ve got airline miles to spare, you can also donate those.

Here is a link to the Donate Miles to Charity page for Hawaiian Airlines, which lists the American Red Cross of Hawaii, the Blood Bank of Hawaii, and the Hawaii Humane Society among the beneficiaries.

The Alaska Airlines Care Miles Program has a disater relief pool.

United Airlines’ Mileage Plus on a Mission page lists the American Red Cross and Airlink among its partner charities.

You can also donate directly to the Airlink global humanitarian organization here.

Will your bag fit? Maybe. Maybe not.

This chart greets travelers at boarding gates for international flights at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

No doubt, there’s something that looks like this at your airport too.

The chart lists the maximum dimensions – including handles and wheels – of the under-seat and carry-on bags for each airline that flies out of this airport.

And the chart is so busy because the maximum measurement for each airline can be a wee bit different.

Fly on Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, or Virgin Atlantic, and the carry-on bag limit is 22 inches X 14″ inches by 9 inches. Board a Finnair, Lufthansa, or Turkish Airline flight and, according to this chart, your bag must not exceed 22 inches X 16 inches X 9 inches.

What happens if your bag exceeds the maximum size dimensions allowed by your airline?

Often nothing.

But if gate agents for what is sure to be a full flight start measuring bags, or when push comes to shove when there’s no more room in the overhead bins for everyone’s bag, the suitcase that’s an inch or two over the official measurement will likely be the one that gate agents declare needs to be checked.

Often at the passenger’s expense.

Avoid being ‘that person’ by checking your airline’s size restrictions for carry-on bags and measuring yours before you leave home. If your bag just meets the guidelines or, better yet, is a wee bit smaller, jot down your measurements in case you’re challenged.

Tucking a tiny retractable or foldable cloth ruler in your pocket wouldn’t hurt either.

And while you’re at it. Check to see if there are weight restrictions for carry-on bags too.

Have you had a carry-on bag rejected because it was a wee too big? Tell us the story.

(Installation by artist Joel Ross – Room 28)

Airlines & Aviation Leaders Gather in Istanbul

The Stuck at the Airport team is in Istanbul this week for the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Air Transport Summit.

CEO & representatives from more than 300 airlines are here, along with government officials, equipment suppliers, and all manner of other aviation world players. And the agenda includes not only assessing how the industry is doing now, post-COVID-19, but how it’s going to handle itself going forward.

Unruly Passengers – Still A Growing Problem

The annual report on the number of unruly passenger incidents worldwide always gets our attention.

And this year’s report is both surprising and alarming.

We thought that the incidences of unruly passengers would have dropped when the airline mask mandates did.

But according to IATA data, the number of reported unruly passenger incidents worldwide actually increased in 2022 compared to 2021.

The latest figures show that there was one unruly incident reported for every 568 flights in 2022.

That’s up from one per 835 flights in 2021.

The most common categories of incidents in 2022 were non-compliance, verbal abuse, and intoxication.

In 2022, non-compliance incidents were up about 37% over 2021.

What’s considered non-compliance? Infractions such as smoking, refusing to fasten a seatbelt, failing to store baggage when told to, or consuming your own alcohol on board an airplane.

Physical abuse incidents are also on the rise. While IATA says physical abuse incidents are rare, they’re nevertheless up 61% over 2021, occurring once every 17,200 flights.

What is the airline industry doing about unruly passengers?

Mandatory pre-flight refresh classes in onboard etiquette aren’t on the table quite yet. (Although we like that idea.) But the airline industry has some strategies it is working on to address the unruly passenger issue.

Those strategies include:

*Getting more countries to ratify the Montreal Protocol 2014, which gives governments the necessary legal authority to prosecute unruly passengers no matter their state of origin;

*Training more crew members on how to de-escalate incidents on the planes;

*And asking airports, airport bars and restaurants, and duty-free shops to help spread the word on the consequences of unruly behavior on airplanes.

United’s upgrade at Denver Int’l Airport

It’s officially “United Airlines Day” in Denver today in honor of the carrier’s announcement of a big expansion in flights, routes, and lounges at Denver International Airport (DEN).

The Chicago-based airline is adding 35 flights, six new routes, a dozen new gates, and – get this – three clubs, including one that will be the carrier’s largest.

Starting this summer, United says it will also be doubling the total number of early morning departures and late evening arrivals in and out of Denver.

The airline is adding new non-stops to six destinations including four not served by any other Denver airline: Dayton, OH; Greensboro, NC; Lexington, KY and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

United says it will fly new 737 MAX aircraft non-stop to San Juan, Puerto Rico, beginning October 29, and Montego Bay, Jamaica, beginning November 4.

In addition to the new routes, United plans to use its new MAX aircraft to increase service to popular destinations like Miami, Austin, Boston, and Atlanta. And the airline plans to will use Embraer 175 aircraft to connect Denver with Asheville, NC; Dayton, OH; Greensboro, NC and Lexington, KY, starting on September 29.

Infrastructure-wise, United will have 12 new gates opening in the A and B concourses by the middle of 2024, making an overall total of 90 gates for United at DEN.

And, just in time for summer travel, United will open a new club on the A Concourse and reopen its first of two revamped clubs on the B Concourse. That B Concourse club will be the largest United club in the world.