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Across the globe, people are on the move as a hectic Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel season is in full swing. December and January are among the busiest months for global aviation, with passenger traffic this year expected to be the highest since travel restrictions were imposed because of the pandemic.
“This is the first time visiting my relatives for the holidays in three years,” Lyla Singh of Aldie, Virginia, told VOA. She arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington nearly four hours before her flight to New Delhi. “With so many people traveling and fewer airline staff means you really have to be patient.”
Like other countries, air travel to and from India has picked up since COVID-19 restrictions eased.
“I was going to avoid the crowds and travel overseas in March but wanted to see my family when they all gather,” Singh said.
In other parts of Asia, tens of millions of people are traveling by air, road and rail. China is expecting a surge in domestic travel after the country relaxed its zero-COVID pandemic control measures earlier in December.
The government eliminated many requirements, including frequent virus testing, and relaxed quarantine rules. The moves came as China prepares for Lunar New Year festivities in January, the country’s busiest travel season.
Analysts believe a surge in vacationing will help China’s ailing economy. Chinese state media quoted Chen Linan, a spokesperson for China-based online travel site Ctrip, as saying, “The increase in travel New Year’s Day and during the Spring Festival could be the biggest turning point in China’s tourism sector in three years.”
In Europe, travel experts foresee the busiest Christmas travel season in years after a protracted period of disruptions because of COVID-19 lockdowns.
“There’s a strong demand for Christmas travel, with ticket revenue up 18%,” Johan Lundgren, CEO of British airline easyJet, told Reuters. The airline also expects more passengers will take to the skies in the first part of 2023.
London’s Heathrow Airport lifted its 100,000 daily passenger limit to avoid major disruptions at the end of October and said it would not cap passenger numbers for the Christmas peak travel time.
Industry observers still warn travelers to prepare for potential labor disputes by transportation workers and staff shortages at European airports and rail stations that could cause cancellations. Two of Air France’s cabin crew unions that failed to reach a contract agreement last October filed to take strike action at any time from Thursday to January 2. The French air carrier issued a statement pledging to maintain a full schedule, adding it hoped to avoid cancelations or delays.
US holiday travel
More than 112 million Americans will travel during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, according to AAA, a travel services company. Of those, more than 7 million will fly.
“I’m glad to be flying out to Atlanta before the bad weather arrives,” said Washington resident Todd Brunson, who booked his flight several days before the Christmas holiday. “I find the closer you get to Christmas, chances increase you won’t get to your destination on time.”
According to AAA, 2022 is shaping up to be the third-busiest year for holiday travel in the United States since it began tracking numbers in 2000.
The trepidations that holiday travel could get worse grew as weather forecasters predicted disruptions stemming from a fierce winter storm sweeping across the country, affecting 180 million people in 40 states. The storm brought treacherous road conditions and caused thousands of flights to be canceled.
“There’s snow in Kansas City waiting for us, so we are little bit nervous about getting there, but I think we are going to beat it, so we’ll be OK,” Lindsay Bittfield, who was flying from New York City, told WABC-TV.
Chicago, a major airline hub, is bracing for high winds, subzero temperatures and possibly 30 centimeters of snow before Christmas.
“We prepared well in advance for whatever weather conditions come, whether it’s snow, rain or wind,” said Karen Pride, director of media relations for the Chicago Department of Aviation. “We have 350 pieces of snow removal equipment that’s ready to clear snow on runways and around the airport.”
In anticipation of the storm, airlines rerouted flights and issued weather waivers that allow passengers to reschedule their flights without incurring fees.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Brunson said. “I just hope the joy of the season won’t be spoiled by any travel headaches.”