Last week I did what I've been telling readers not to do for years: I flew on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Historically, millions of holiday travelers, staff shortages, and stormy late fall weather have all converged on this day to create the perfect storm for passengers. Long lines, delays, cancelations, lost baggage, and even improvised Thanksgiving dinners at the airport food court have been all too common over past Thanksgivings. But this year, things were different.
I arrived at Boston's Logan airport on November 21 two hours early and ready for the worst, carrying only a small backpack, a thick book, and a fully charged cell phone programmed with all the airlines phone numbers. Then came the big shock. The terminal was uncrowded, the airline check-in desks were fully staffed, there was no security line, and the flight monitor listed nearly every departure as "On Time." The situation was much the same at my connection airports, Baltimore and Atlanta, and at my destination airport in New Orleans, which I reached 20 minutes early.
My good luck seemed to reflect the experiences of most other travelers flying over Thanksgiving week, thanks to an uncommon alliance between the airlines, the government, and the weather. After 10 months of pitiful on-time service and inadequate staffing, U.S. airlines made a major effort to improve their operations for the holidays, increasing ground and airplane staff and making extra aircraft available. Even Northwest, which was canceling up to 193 flights per day over the summer, canceled only three flights over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend. President Bush helped the airlines by opening up military air space along the East Coast, allowing more planes to be in the air at once. The weather largely cooperated around the country too, only becoming an issue on the Monday after the holiday.
Mother Nature will do what she pleases, but wouldn't it be nice if the airlines and the government could work together so well on an ongoing basis? With financial pressures causing the airlines to cut employees in recent years, it seems unlikely that airlines will be fully staffed all the time. But perhaps the airlines will try to do better, encouraged by their Thanksgiving success. As for the government, the airlines are pressing Bush to open up military airspace again, at least on highly congested days.
Stay tuned for more Thanksgiving travel stories from readers who shared their experiences with SmarterTravel.com. It's not too late to contribute your holiday travel tales as well, just send us your story by Friday, December 7.