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Airlines for America CEO Talks About Return of Air Travel Ahead of the Holidays

Date: November 17, 2022

BY Rich Thomaselli, Travel Pulse

What initially caught the airline industry by surprise this year – the rapid return of air travelers and the demand for flying – has settled down, says Airline for America CEO Nick Calio.

“The industry is back and it came back sooner than expected,” Calio said in an interview with TravelPulse. “Following the pandemic, we were looking at 2024 before we could declare ourselves ‘back.’ Obviously, that timetable changes and we had to adapt to it. … Look, there were real hiccups over the summer. But I also think things got real better as the summer went along.”

Despite the bumps and bruises, and the flight delays and cancellations and long lines, the industry has come back in a big way.

The number of passengers being screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on a daily basis has equaled or surpassed that when compared to 2019, the last full pre-pandemic year and the measuring stick the industry uses to gauge its comeback.

Just in this week alone – generally considered the last ‘downtime’ of the year before the holiday travel season – the numbers have been a welcome revelation.

The TSA has processed the following amount of passengers in the last week on a daily basis compared to 2019:

-November 15 – 1,889,169 passengers this year vs. 1,900,895 in 2019.

-November 14 – 2,263,943 vs. 2,298,856 in 2019.

-November 13 – 2,435,219 vs. 2,396,681 in 2019.

-November 12 – 1,871,427 vs. 1,807,230 in 2019.

-November 11 – 2,317,632 vs. 2,437,211 in 2019.

-November 10 – 2,176,720 vs. 2,364,920 in 2019.

-November 9 – 1,932,418 vs. 2,072,207in 2019.

All totaled, that seven-day stretch from November 9-15 added up to 14,778,000 passengers screened at security in 2022 and 14,886,528 in 2019 – what mathematicians and experts like to call a ‘dead heat,’ except for horseshoes and elections.

Will it be a higher passenger count for Thanksgiving?

“We are anticipating that,” Calio said. “Really, this is the first normal Thanksgiving since (2019). This is like our Super Bowl. We figure there will be more than 2 million people flying each day (during the Thanksgiving Holiday).”

As for the unprecedented delays from spring and summer that caught a surprised airline industry unaware of the pent-up demand, most domestic carriers have limited, cut, or entirely eliminated some routes from their schedules, particularly some smaller airports. Calio said he doesn’t see the chaos repeating itself for Thanksgiving.

Lessons – hard lessons – were learned from spring and summer, he said.

“We think we’re going to be in good shape, but we can’t control the weather. Weather could always play a factor,” he said. “I think if you look back on it, over the course of the summer things got much, much better.”

Calio said he has flown overseas 12 times this year and taken more than 40 domestic flights, so he speaks from a position of authority. Calio said from his perspective, and not just because he is the main lobbyist for the airline industry, things have gone relatively well given the numbers.

“We operate 27,000 flights a day,” he said. “The employees we have now are the most we’ve had since. It’s critical on our part to convey to people what’s going on. If it’s not safe to fly, we’re not playing. We don’t get into their operations but they are on top of it every day. (Airlines) are making adjustments. It’s a logistical miracle that that happens every day.”

Bottom line? “We think the demand is going to continue,” Calio said.

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