CHICAGO -- Airline labor trouble and bad weather have raised the chances of travel headaches during the holiday rush that builds to a peak Friday.
"This is shaping up badly for travelers," said airline watchdog Joe Brancatelli, a columnist for Biztravel.com. "What we've got is a confluence of problems: labor troubles, cancellations caused by labor problems, the bad weather and heavy traffic."
A record 39.6 million passengers are expected to travel by plane during the three-week period that began last Friday and runs through Jan. 4, according to the Air Transport Association. It is a modest increase from last year's projection, due in part to an absence of Y2K fears.
Much of the nation has already been hit by snow, ice, freezing cold or a combination of all three since last week. Thousands of flights have been delayed or canceled.
The National Weather Service forecast a storm on the East Coast Thursday night and Friday, but most of the nation is expected to be clear. Bitter cold is expected from the Plains to the Southeast.
"I'm more worried about the people who will be traveling in their vehicles as opposed to flying," said meteorologist Jim Hoke in Camp Springs, Md.
Becca Roth, 31, of Boston knows there could be trouble when she and her family fly to Minneapolis on Friday -- the busiest day of the season, with 2.14 million passengers boarding planes. They endured four cancellations and a delay on three airlines getting there for a funeral last week.
"It could get ugly," Roth said. "But on the holidays there's bound to be bad weather and crowds. You just need to bring a crossword puzzle, a book and a little bit of grace."
The biggest U.S. airlines also are in the midst of labor woes.
"I don't think there's been a Christmas with as many unsettled labor issues as this year," said Randy Petersen, editor of Inside Flier, a magazine for frequent fliers. "The public has become the new bargaining chip for higher paychecks out there."
Minnesota-based Northwest and United are both in court battles with their mechanics, whom they accuse of causing flight delays and cancellations by staging work slowdowns and refusing overtime. The mechanics deny any illegal or organized actions.
Delta said it expects to cancel flights through the holidays because its pilots refuse to work overtime. American and its flight attendants are far apart in contract talks, and its pilots also are seeking a big raise.
The good news? The same issues were present during the Thanksgiving holiday and the chaos predicted by some experts never materialized.
"Fleet capacity, labor, the weather -- there are a lot of issues out there that could cause trouble," Petersen said. "But they haven't had a major impact on the Christmas rush, so far."
On the Net:
National Weather Service: http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov
Weather Channel: http://www.weather.com
Air Transport Association: http://www.air-transport.org
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.