Airlines for America expects 51 million passengers to board US flights during holiday season

The number of holiday airline travelers is expected to increase 3.5 percent from last year, with 51 million passengers expected to board U.S. flights over this year’s 21-day holiday travel period, Airlines for America (A4A) reported on Tuesday.

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U.S. airlines will offer an additional 91,000 seats per day to handle the influx of travelers during the holiday travel season from Dec. 15 to Jan. 4. Larger planes and additional flights will account for the added capacity.

“With affordable fares and expanded route options, flying to see family, friends and loved ones this holiday season is more accessible than ever before,” John Heimlich, the vice president and chief economist at A4A, said. “Intense competition within the airline industry is enabling passengers to choose the flights that most closely match their preferences and budgets.”

In 2016, 88 percent of holiday travelers had multiple air carriers from which to choose. That marked a 23-percent increase in market competition during the holiday season from 2000. Government data indicates that passengers are also benefiting from airlines’ investments in equipment, systems, and staffing, Heimlich said.

“In recent months, notwithstanding the impact of severe weather events such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, flight completion and on-time arrival rates remained high, while reports of mishandled baggage and involuntary denied boardings plunged to their lowest ever recorded,” Heimlich said. “These recent developments bode well for the winter holiday flyer.”

The busiest travel days of the holiday season are expected by to be Dec. 21, Dec. 22, and Dec. 26. The lightest travel days are expected to be Dec. 16, Dec. 24, Dec. 25, and Dec. 31, according to A4A.