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After a bumpy ride, airlines prepare for a busy Christmas


A Delta airlines ground crew loads a plane at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, on Dec. 1, 2021.

By Jason Horowitz


After a tumultuous year, airlines are preparing to end 2021 on a relatively high note, despite the emergence of the omicron variant. Executives and workers expect to be very busy around Christmas and New Year’s Day.


It has been a bumpy ride. After tens of millions people were vaccinated early this year, domestic travel surged. But the delta variant depressed demand for flights this summer and fall.


Last month, the Biden administration eased restrictions on foreign travelers, which has led to increased international travel. Now the omicron variant is threatening to slow the recovery in that part of the business.


One sign that the pandemic’s toll on air travel may be ending came during Thanksgiving. There were few big disruptions, and the number of people traveling over the holiday was down just 10% compared with before the pandemic in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration.


Flying is different from it was before the pandemic. Masks are required, of course. There may be announcements reminding passengers to behave. Food and drink service is still limited. And it has become harder to fly with a pet.


Behind the scenes, work has picked up a lot, sometimes more than airlines were prepared to handle. Call centers are inundated, forcing some people to wait for hours on hold. Flight attendants say they are overworked and under greater stress.

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