‘Tis the season for crowded skies and congested highways.
Even with Sunday’s power outage that crippled Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a record number of holiday travelers are expected take planes, trains, automobiles, and buses for the upcoming year-end holidays, according to the auto club AAA.
The outage led to cancellations of more than 1,000 flights and continued to disrupt air travel Monday. Delta Air Lines, whose largest hub and headquarters is Atlanta, canceled 400 flights Monday. “Delta is working to re-accommodate our customers,” the airline said.
Philadelphia International Airport said that two departures to Atlanta and three arrivals from Atlanta were canceled Monday.
However, PHL was not seeing a ripple effect on flight interruptions from other cities. Delta has a small presence in Philadelphia, operating 6.9 percent of the flights here. Also, Atlanta is not a hub airport for American Airlines, which transports 70 percent of travelers in Philadelphia.
“For those two reasons, the impact is less for passengers coming through Philadelphia than they would be at a Delta hub,” said PHL spokeswoman Mary Flannery.
While the power outage led to 1,180 flight cancellations to and from Atlanta Sunday, according to flight tracking service FlightAware, “people should make it home for Christmas, if that’s where they’re going,” said Jana Tidwell, public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “In the next few days, across the country, airlines will be back on track. That’s what we are being told, It’s expected that between today and tomorrow, things should be rescheduled and people should be off the ground.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic estimates more than 1.2 million Philadelphia-area residents will travel 50 miles or more away from home for the upcoming holidays, defined as Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, which is a 3.2 percent increase over last year. The majority, 90 percent, will travel by car, while 6.7 percent will travel by air.
Nationally, AAA projects 107.3 million Americans will take to planes, trains, automobiles and other modes of transportation, the highest year-end travel volume on record and a 3.1 percent increase over 2016. This is the ninth consecutive year of rising winter holiday travel since the recession in 2008, AAA said.
Airlines for America, the trade group for U.S. airlines, projects a 3.5 percent increase in travel to 51 million passengers between Dec. 15 and Jan. 4. Airlines will add 91,000 additional seats per day to accommodate the 80,000 additional daily passengers, the group said. Planes will be 88 percent full. “The airlines continue to see strong traffic trends as demand picked up, probably due to improved economic activity,” airline analyst Helane Becker of Cowen & Co. said in a client note.
“Consumers have more money to spend than they’ve had in the past, and certainly since last year, and they are really enthusiastic and confident about their situations right now,” said Shane Norton, a director at IHS Markit, a business information services company that conducts holiday travel analysis for AAA. “When you combine someone who feels really good about his or her spot, and has extra spending money, that bodes well for holiday travel.”
“We’ve seen times in the past where disposable income has risen, but there’s been a lot of uncertainty and hesitancy from the consumer, and that has dampened the potential for travel growth, because they didn’t want to spend that money,” Norton said. “Other times we’ve seen confidence, but the money wasn’t there. Now, we’ve got that nice complement of a confident consumer with increasing disposable income.”
Gasoline prices will be slightly higher this year. The average price per gallon in the five-county Philadelphia area was $2.67 a gallon Monday, compared to $2.42 a year ago. The average per-gallon price in South Jersey was $2.39 Monday, and $2.27 a year ago, AAA said.