News Article - October 29, 2008

By Linda Loyd

Inquirer Staff Writer

  If you are planning to fly to Uncle Fred's for turkey and all the trimmings, you may want to book a departure early on Thanksgiving - or, perhaps, go the day before. Because of the economy and high fuel prices, airlines are trimming schedules more than usual on the holiday. They'll be grounding hundreds of flights here and across the country Thanksgiving afternoon and evening.

   The carriers are reasoning that Turkey Day travelers want to be at their destinations by midafternoon, and airports traditionally get quiet then anyway. Flights resume the next day, Friday, and through the weekend as hordes of travelers return home in what is traditionally one of the busiest travel periods on the calendar.

   US Airways Group Inc., which transports two-thirds of Philadelphia's passengers, will cancel all departures out of Philadelphia International Airport after 1:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, including evening international flights. The carrier, based in Tempe, Ariz., will operate 40 percent fewer flights this Thanksgiving Day than last. Other major airlines are doing the same.

   Flights will arrive throughout the evening from other cities. But those planes will be parked for the night here "and start up the next day," said DJ "Donald" Westbrock, director of US Airways' hub-control center here. All flights will operate as usual Thanksgiving morning, including to the Caribbean. But after 10 a.m., travel will start to slow down, Westbrock said.

   The 40 percent fewer US Airways flights on Thanksgiving includes a 6 percent to 8 percent reduction in seats and flights made after Labor Day to cover high fuel prices. Most airlines reduced routes and flights, increased airfares, and added passenger fees this fall. "Every year, we pull down our service on Thanksgiving," said Suzanne Boda, the carrier's senior vice president of East Coast, international and cargo operations. "This is slightly higher than usual because of the economy and fuel prices. But I think it's fairly consistent with what other carriers are doing for the holiday."

   American Airlines, which operates 20 round-trips a day from Philadelphia, is trimming three departures to Dallas-Fort Worth, with the last one leaving just before noon Thanksgiving. American's last flight to Chicago will be at 1:30 p.m., and the usual 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. departures will not run that day, said American spokesman Tim Smith. "We always do tweaking around certain holidays where you don't have any business." Southwest Airlines Co., which shuttles 12 percent of passengers at Philadelphia airport, will cut 1,181 flights across its network Thanksgiving Day.

   The Dallas low-fare carrier will operate 3,400 flights Wednesday before the holiday, including 70 from Philadelphia. The next day, Thanksgiving, Southwest will have 2,219 flights, including 40 departures from Philadelphia. Southwest's last Thanksgiving flight here will be at 4:15 p.m. to Manchester, N.H. "Most of the trims are in the afternoon and evening, since there is little demand," Southwest spokeswoman Christi Day said.

   Northwest Airlines Corp. will reduce flights 35 percent overall Thanksgiving Day, compared with a typical Thursday, said spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo-Shannon. Northwest already reduced flights 8.5 percent to 9.5 percent in August and September in response to high fuel prices. Likewise, Delta Air Lines Inc. will operate 26 percent fewer Thanksgiving Day flights, compared with 2007. But there will not be much change from Philadelphia. Delta had 18 departures here last Thanksgiving and will have 16 this holiday. "We lost only two frequencies year over year," said spokeswoman Susan Elliot.

   United Airlines will have about 20 percent fewer flights this Thanksgiving Day than a year ago, including three fewer departures from Philadelphia. Last year, there were 15, this year 12, said spokesman Jeff Kovick. British Airways P.L.C., which has two daily flights between Philadelphia and London, will operate only one on Thanksgiving. "We just know that many people don't travel on the holiday itself," said British Airways spokesman John Lampl. "It's based on revenue management and historical stuff. That Thursday night is a very light load," Lampl said. "People are at home eating turkey with their families."

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer