Labor Day air travel hits 2019 levels as airlines endure turbulent summer

Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C.

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

A challenging summer travel season ended on a high note during Labor Day weekend, with a surge in air travel and relatively uninterrupted operations in the US, according to data released Tuesday.

The Transportation Security Administration tested nearly 8.76 million people Friday through Monday, surpassing pre-pandemic levels from the same weekend in 2019 when it tested 8.6 million people.

It was the first holiday weekend since the start of the pandemic that TSA’s screenings topped 2019 levels, marking a major milestone in the difficult recovery of air travel. Airlines cut their schedules this summer to stem a rise in flight delays as they battled labor shortages.

Flight disruptions on popular weekends were also below recent trends, helped by good weather.

According to FlightAware, US airlines have canceled just 0.6% of more than 90,000 scheduled flights, and 16% have been delayed. This compares to the 2.1% of U.S. carrier flights canceled between May 27, the Friday before Memorial Day, through Labor Day. During this period, more than 22% of flights were delayed.

Last Thursday, the Department of Transportation launched a new dashboard it lists the rights of passengers if their flight is canceled or delayed.

Executives from major US carriers, including United and American, are expected to release forecasts for the fall and the usually busy holiday season at the end of the year during an industry conference starting Wednesday.

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