In less than a week, more than 3 million Americans will overwhelm airports across the nation as they head home for Thanksgiving in the busiest travel weekend of the year. It’s a daunting thought, but the researchers behind a pair of reports released by the U.S. Travel Association this week offer an even scarier one: This nightmare airport scenario each Thanksgiving, they say, could be a year-round reality at nearly all of the top 50 U.S. airports within a decade.
According to U.S. Travel, passenger volume the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is 130 percent to 259 percent higher than on the average day. Conversely, the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that U.S. airports will serve roughly 800 million passengers in 2016 and 1 billion by 2027.
“Travel has been one of the leading sectors of the economic recovery, but that success won’t be sustainable unless our infrastructure keeps pace,” U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow explained. “Every projection holds that the demand for travel will continue to dramatically rise, which portends terrific things for the growth of jobs and tax revenues. But that rising demand will be stifled without a significant effort to modernize infrastructure, and unfortunately the moment of greatest need has already arrived.
“U.S. Travel warns in its new report that domestic air-travel infrastructure is in bad shape, and congestion is virtually unavoidable if demand continues on its current pace. The trade group’s researchers analyzed passenger volume and growth data at the nation’s top 30 airports, which account for 70 percent of total passenger enplanements, to calculate how soon the average day would resemble the busiest travel days of 2012.
In just five years, the “Thanksgiving in the Skies” report forebodes, 24 of the top 30 U.S. airports will experience passenger levels equal to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at least one day during the average week. One in five major airports — including John F. Kennedy in New York, McCarran International in Las Vegas, Orlando International and Chicago Midway International — already experience Thanksgiving-like congestion at least once a week.
U.S. Travel believes that pre-Thanksgiving congestion will become the new normal two days each week at 25 of the nation’s top 30 airports within the next decade. In 15 years, every other day will feel like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at more than half of America’s largest airports.