United prepared for record level of passengers over Thanksgiving holiday

Airline, which expects 60,000 people going through Newark on Sunday, has added more planes to handle surge

Remember when planes were half-empty — and the middle seat was kept clear? Those days are long gone. And that’s a good thing for the industry.

United Airlines announced Monday that it is expecting record use over the Thanksgiving holiday week — at Newark Liberty International Airport and across the country — with more than 5.9 million passengers expected to fly.

The busiest day will be Sunday, when the carrier expects more than 517,000 people to fly. It will be, by far, the busiest day post-pandemic, with about 60,000 more passengers in the air than there were on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

The airline has added more than 550,000 seats to meet this increased demand. The airline also said it expects to fly more than 3,900 flights per day on average — the equivalent of about three flights per minute — during the holiday.

Newark alone is expecting 60,000 passengers on Sunday.

There is some bit of good news. Thanks to remote work, the holiday travel period is getting longer and demand is less concentrated on peak days.

The days right after Thanksgiving are still the busiest — but flights on off-peak days are booking fuller compared to 2019. For example, demand for travel the Monday before Thanksgiving is up nearly 10% compared to 2019 while demand for travel the Wednesday before is only up 3%.

Cyrus Sarkari, United’s managing director of customer service, wants people to be ready whenever they fly. He advises passengers to download the United app before flying, as it allows you to check in, choose a seat, check your bags and be fully prepared to fly before you even step foot into the airport.

Sarkari also advises you — if you can — to enroll in TSA Precheck and/or Clear to help make going through TSA as seamless as possible.

Of course, the biggest hurdle during crunch times is weather — both in Newark and at other destinations coming in or flying out. While there is a 60% chance of showers in New Jersey on Wednesday morning, the rest of the week looks like perfect flying weather.

John Weigand, United’s managing director of the station operation center, said United will handle any weather.

“Weather can impact flights, but the bottom line is that our team is ready,” he said. “We’re constantly looking at factors that can impact flights, including weather, aircraft type, aircraft traffic on the ground. We plan ahead as much as possible and have sophisticated technology and we are able to continually adjust plans as needed.”