The NY Times had his annual article about air travel and airport congestions on the week leading to Thanksgiving. (“Seeking Deals, Holiday Fliers Get Early Start”, NY Times, November 2009).
The day before Thanksgiving is “known” to be the busiest day in air travel. The article reports that this year, the delays started even before
But the long lines and frayed nerves actually started last week, as many penny-pinching travelers booked earlier, and less expensive, flights. As a result, what used to be a quick holiday trip home is now stretching to a week or more.
The article claims that due to the economic situation people are willing to travel early (or late) in order to avoid congestion in the airports during the busiest days of the year. But is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving really the busiest day… or has it even been the busiest day in recent history. According the CBS News’s article (“Holiday Travel Myths Exposed”, November 2009), it is not. It is not even close to being the busiest
In reality, the day before Thanksgiving is not the busiest day of the year,” said Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association., In fact, according to official government data, when it comes to the number of airline flights, today doesn’t even rank among the top 25 busiest days.
Last year, there were 220 days with more flights than the day before Thanksgiving. Basically, it’s a myth, which is fostered by multiple parties: the media (who else – otherwise what will the NY Times do with their annual article about airport congestion before Thanksgiving), the airlines (who can charge a premium for flights on a day with no unusual demand), and us (who still have memories of long delays).
The simple explanation for the diminishing number of flights is that customers are strategic in choosing when to travel, and given that everybody “knows” these are the busiest days, a smart customer will avoid them (and thus airlines reduce the number of flights). My colleagues Prof. Marty Lariviere (who blogs here), and Prof. Jan Van Mieghem have a very interesting paper about customers choosing, strategically, when to be served (Strategically Seeking Service: How Competition Can Generate Poisson Arrivals). The fact that the “busiest” day of the year is only the 220th busiest of a specific year, is very much in line with their predictions. The good news is that, we all benefit from that:
Mr. Dillman said the bargain-hunting Thanksgiving travelers actually increased the airline’s chances of running a smoother operation.