Thanksgiving crowds happening year-round at airports, study finds

Thanksgiving crowds happening year-round at airports, study finds
Travelers wait to check in at Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 23, 2011, the day before Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest travel day of the year. A study says LAX will experience such crowds one day a week by next year. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

By next year, congestion at Los Angeles International Airport one day out of each week could be as bad as it is on the day before Thanksgiving, according to a new study.

And, if travel demand continues to grow, by 2018 at least two days of the week will feel like what is now the busiest day of the year for air travel, according to a forecast by the U.S. Travel Assn., the trade group for the nation's tourism industry.


The forecast, released Tuesday, said congestion at the nation's largest airports is growing faster than previously predicted, making the need for airport investments a priority.

Some airports, including John F. Kennedy International in New York, Chicago Midway International and McCarran International in Las Vegas, already reach such congestion levels at least one day a week, the report says.

"Major investments in air travel infrastructure are desperately needed to restore service to even basic levels of adequacy, let alone cope with the expected coming demand," said Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the association.

The Airports Council International-North America estimates a backlog of $71.3 billion in airport projects that are needed to be completed by 2017.

To illustrate the problem, the U.S. Travel Assn. estimated how often airports in the country will be as crowded as the day before Thanksgiving, when passenger volume jumps up to 259% higher than the average travel day.

The report said that 24 of the country's 30 busiest airports will experience such crowding at least one day per week within the next five years.

Last year, slightly more than 2 million passengers passed through LAX for the Thanksgiving holiday, a 6.8% increase over 2012, according to airport officials.

The airport -- ranked as the country's third busiest -- is now reaching the same passenger volume at least two days a month, typically on Mondays and Fridays, according to the U.S. Travel Assn.

The trade group divided the blame between Congress and the airlines, which have cut service to midsize airports to focus on more profitable routes at big-city airports.

The report noted that infrastructure grants for airport improvements are paid for with a 7.5% tax on airline tickets. But the tax does not apply to passenger charges, such as baggage fees. The airline industry began charging baggage fees and other ancillary fees in 2009.

If the tax had been applied to baggage fees since 2009, it would have raised more than $1 billion by now, the study said.

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