Air travel is expected to have its biggest weekend in over three years over the Memorial Day holiday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday.
He said on Thursday alone, nearly 51,000 commercial flights will take off throughout the U.S.
Last Friday, 2.65 million people were processed by the Transportation Safety Administration, marking the highest passenger traffic since February 2020. Buttigieg expects numbers to be even higher this weekend.
His prediction comes a year after a summer full of air traffic delays.
“This weekend will be a test of the system,” he said.
While he expressed confidence that both airlines and the government are staffed at high enough levels, he said the need remains for additional staffing. He said on Tuesday that air traffic control staff remains 3,000 below where he’d like to see it.
“This is going to be a journey, especially when you consider attrition. We are still working to recover from the pandemic,” he said. “I think it will be a while before we are at the levels we want to be.”
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Memorial Day weekend kicks off a busy summer travel season. After Memorial Day, the federal government faces a possible debt ceiling that could prevent it from making all of its payments.
Buttigieg did not expect a potential debt ceiling crisis would initially disrupt air travel. But he said it could cause longer-term issues.
“I know it won’t be good,” Buttigieg said. “Operations would continue, but could cause long-term issues with economics,” he said.
Buttigieg also pushed back on the idea that increasing customer service standards for airlines would increase costs. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the cost of airfare dropped in the 12-month period ending in April by 0.9%.
“I think these airlines can be perfectly profitable while being held accountable,” he said.
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