US airlines prepare to fly 2.8 million passengers a day over the long Christmas holiday – AccuWeather.com/en/

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Unclaimed luggage piles up at baggage carousels at Orlando International Airport in December 2022. US airlines know there will be even more passengers flying this year but are aiming to avoid the massive Christmas headaches of 2022. (Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Unclaimed luggage piles up at baggage carousels at Orlando International Airport in December 2022. US airlines know there will be even more passengers flying this year but are aiming to avoid the massive Christmas headaches of 2022. (Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency/.)

(CNN) — The three biggest legacy airlines in the United States say they are gearing up for a longer and larger stretch of Christmas holiday travel while aiming for a repeat of this past Thanksgiving, which saw few flight cancelations.

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American Airlines, the country’s largest carrier, expects Friday, December 22, to be its busiest of a 19-day-long holiday travel period that begins Wednesday, December 20. In all, the airline plans to serve 12.7 million passengers.

“The 2023 holiday period is longer than previous years, reflecting the changing travel habits of our customers and school schedules in many of American’s hub markets,” the airline said.

The Federal Aviation Administration says holiday air traffic overall will peak on the Thursday before Christmas with the agency’s air traffic controllers handling 48,959 flights.

In a sign of how spread out winter holiday travel has become, Delta Air Lines spokesperson Morgan Durant told CNN that there is a “seven-way tie” for that carrier’s busiest days.

Delta is expecting to serve around 9 million people in total, including 600,000 customers each day on December 21 and 22 as well as from December 26 to 30.

Industry lobby group Airlines for America says that 2.8 million passengers will fly each day overall during the holiday rush, representing a 16% increase in the number of holiday fliers over 2022.

Airlines hire ahead of the holiday wave

“U.S. airlines have been working for months to accommodate unprecedented demand throughout the holiday season,” the group said in a statement, underscoring that airlines have been “hiring aggressively” and have adjusted flight schedules to match the shortage of air traffic controllers.

That appeared to pay off over Thanksgiving when very few flights were canceled, though the airlines also benefited from favorable weather.

Figures from FlightAware show that US-based airlines canceled only 329 flights during the week of Thanksgiving, a rate of less than 1%, when Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said weather would be the “x-factor.”

United Airlines plans to fly around 9 million people, a 12% increase over last year. United says it is “building off the success of Thanksgiving travel” and is “confident the operation is well-prepared for the holiday season.”

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