New Jersey airports and the airline industry are likely to face levels of Thanksgiving travel this week not seen since before the pandemic, and some experts are warning travelers to build extra time into their itineraries.
Travel numbers for the airports are widely expected to climb past holiday volumes seen during the COVID-19 closures and before vaccines were widely available, while automobile travel is also expected to increase. Airline numbers won’t be at the 2019 levels, but they’ll be close, during the time period that spans the weekend before Thanksgiving until the Sunday immediately afterward.
Data from the American Automobile Association indicate that 116,000 New Jerseyans will fly this Thanksgiving. That’s up 81% from 2020, but still down 9% from the 2019 Thanksgiving season, said AAA spokesperson Tracy Noble.
Another 1.17 million New Jerseyans are expected to travel by car this year, compared to just less than 1.08 million people last year and 1.23 million drivers in 2019, AAA added.
“AAA is expecting all airports to be extremely busy and is asking travelers to give themselves extra time to get through security as we are expecting longer than normal wait times,” Nobile said in an email.
Layoffs during the travel caused by the COVID-19 contraction and slow hiring as the pandemic ebbs, mean “a shortage in, say, baggage handlers or ground crews at airports could certainly equate to people waiting longer for baggage or to deplane,” she continued.
Scott Kirby, United Airlines’ chief executive officer, said he is confident that the carrier would be able to ride out the labor shortages, citing negotiations with the pilot unions that“allowed us to avoid the staffing shortages,” said in a Nov. 4 letter posted to the company’s web site. United is one of several major airlines offering hiring bonuses this holiday season.
The carrier uses Newark Liberty International Airport as one of its main national hubs, and according to a spokesperson is expecting 710,000 passengers to fly out of airport during the Thanksgiving travel period. For comparison, the airport saw 720,000 passengers in 2019, 2% more.
To compensate for the increased volume, United added 375 additional daily flights to 108 separate destinations.
“As they deploy additional capacity to meet the expected strong holiday demand, carriers have been hiring and training new employees, recalling employees that had taken voluntary leave, putting new aircraft into service and returning to service aircraft that had been put in storage during the pandemic,” Airlines for America, the nationwide airline trade group, said in an email.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – which owns the Hudson River bridges and tunnels, the major New York City airports and Newark Airport – is expecting 5 million people to drive, fly or otherwise travel through their facilities.
Newark and LaGuardia airports, for example, are slated to reach a combined 90% of their 2019 Thanksgiving travel levels, the bi-state agency estimated in a Nov. 22 statement.
Any non-emergency construction will be suspended along the Hudson River crossings this Thanksgiving weekend “to accommodate expected significant traffic volume,” the Port Authority said.
The heavier travel volumes this year can be chalked up to vaccination rates that enabled the economy across the nation to reopen, despite the spread of the delta variant.
More than 6.2 million New Jerseyans are fully vaccinated, with hundreds of thousands in the state getting the booster shot for extended protection against the virus.
“If you’re with obviously family but if you’re with people … that you have a high degree of confidence – you know then; you know their vaccine status, have at it. Raise hell. Have a great Thanksgiving,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during his weekly COVID-19 briefing on Nov. 22.
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