Editor's note: This story was updated at 4:45 on Nov. 16 to reflect the most up-to-date projections.
The Thanksgiving holiday period is expected to return to levels not seen since before the COVID-19 pandemic, with Delta anticipating up to 5.6 million passengers from Nov. 19-30. To support customers, Delta has increased staffing levels across the operation including in customer service and reservations, and new flight attendants have graduated to accommodate the growing number of flights being restored.
Even during this busy time, customers can fly with confidence and expect the same experience we deliver year-round: A smooth journey thanks to tools like the Fly Delta app and integrated FlyReady tool, with a commitment to health and safety at the forefront.
The anticipated volume represents a nearly threefold increase over the pandemic-battered 2020 season (2.2 million passengers). U.S. leisure travel has fully recovered to 2019 levels as vaccination rates climb.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving Day is expected to be the busiest day of the period, matching the single-day post-downturn record of 520,000 set this past Sunday.
In addition to a busy domestic schedule, Delta has seen a 450% increase in international point-of-sale bookings in the six weeks between the U.S. border reopening on Nov. 8 and the date it was announced. Many international flights are expected to operate with high passenger volume throughout the following weeks.
HEALTH, SAFETY AND WELL-BEING
While the numbers fall shy of the 6.3 million customers who traveled during the same period in 2019, the surge nevertheless represents a recovery milestone. That also means there will be busy airports, full flights and passengers who haven’t traveled in some time.
"The holidays can be a stressful time for many, but traveling doesn't have to be," said Dr. Henry Ting, Delta's Chief Health Officer. "The best thing we can do – like with most things in life we find stressful – is to prepare ahead of time and anticipate challenges so we take as much control over our experience as possible. This also allows us the mental space to give grace to those around us."
Dr. Ting also offered advice to travelers on how they can make it through their journey a bit easier:
Arrive at least two hours before domestic flights. (Three hours for international.)
Follow FAA requirements and wear a mask in airports and on flights – a rule in place through Jan. 18, 2022.
With the widespread availability of rapid tests, consider testing yourself before travel and upon arrival, and keep a few extra tests in your luggage in case you are exposed or experience symptoms.
Pack a few extra masks and hand sanitizer in your luggage.
And if you feel sick, stay home — customers can still change or cancel trips directly on delta.com or the Fly Delta app through 2021 without paying a change fee.
The low risk of COVID-19 transmission on aircraft has been verified by numerous studies over the past 12 months, including a recent peer-reviewed study by the Mayo Clinic that shows the risk of exposure to COVID-19 while traveling after all passengers test negative 72 hours in advance of flight is less than 0.1%.
Hospital-grade air filtration, masks and other measures make both airports and airplanes very safe environments with low risk for infection transmission.
As recommended by the CDC, Ting said, make sure to wash reusable masks at least once a day or as soon as they become dirty. Wash your hands often, including after any time you handle a used mask. Disposable masks should be thrown away after being worn once.
A SMOOTH JOURNEY
As customers reconnect with loved ones all over the world for the first time since before the pandemic began, Delta is offering an updated slate of digital tools to make their journeys simpler than ever, including:
An all-new “Today” mode experience in the Fly Delta app that makes it easier for customers to find key information during their day of travel, including boarding information, upgrade status, baggage location, and key self-service resources such as same-day changes.
Easier entry requirement management with Delta FlyReadySM – the airline’s digital solution built to automatically verify government-required health documentation.
A revamped Delta Discover Map experience, powered by Smartvel, that will allow customers to conveniently filter destinations based on health requirements, including vaccination status, for a more personalized view.
Furthermore, for the second year in a row – Delta is extending Medallion Status through January 2023 and is rolling over all Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs). No matter what your situation has been throughout the past year, we want to do all we can to make your holiday travel seamless and rewarding.
“This will be a special holiday season for many customers who are reconnecting with family for the first time since before the pandemic began,” said Allison Ausband, E.V.P. and Chief Customer Experience Officer. “We look forward to showing them the Delta Difference that sets us apart – the care, dedication and world-class service our people are known for day in and day out.”
For the period running Dec. 17-Jan. 3, Delta expects to fly 8.7 million to 9 million passengers — an average of 490,000 per day. Six to eight of those days could also surpass the single-day post-downturn travel record set over the summer, with peak averages of about 530,000 per day.
Editor’s note: These early projections are subject to change as we approach the season.