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‘Please be nice’: aviation authority issues plea for US travelers over Thanksgiving

The newly confirmed Federal Aviation Administration administrator, Mike Whitaker, has asked the US public to be on its best behavior ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday travel rush on Wednesday, when planning and execution are likely to be frustrated by bad weather.

“If you’re flying, please be nice to your flight crew,” Whitaker said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “They are there for your safety. The FAA has zero tolerance for unruly behavior.”

Whitaker – who was confirmed to his post by the Senate on 24 October – also said he anticipates that US skies will be “extremely busy” over the Thanksgiving period, “eclipsing last year”.

“We are expecting 49,600 flights on Wednesday,” he added in a separate post. “The FAA will be working around the clock to make sure passengers get to their destinations safely.”

Separately, the Transportation Security Administration anticipates that a record-breaking 30 million airline passengers will be screened from 17 through 28 November, with 2.6 million on Tuesday and 2.7 million on Wednesday. Sunday is expected to be the peak, with 2.9 million passengers squeezing through TSA checkpoints.

The National Weather Service forecasts that two storm systems will affect the nation with rain, thunderstorms and other winter weather. About 1,784 flights within, into and out of the US had been delayed as of 1pm EST on Tuesday, as 2.6 million passengers rushed to get out ahead of a weather system moving up from the Gulf of Mexico toward the east coast.

Severe storms have battered the US plains and midwest already this week. The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts weather could cause travel disruptions for more than 50 million Americans who plan to go at least 50 miles from their homes at some point between Wednesday and Sunday.

Alongside Whitaker’s appeal for improved passenger behavior, the US transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, released a public service announcement reminding airline passengers of their rights.

“[I]f your flight does get delayed or canceled, know that the department of transportation has your back,” Buttigieg said in the PSA video posted to X.

“For example, we have secured enforceable commitments from the 10 largest airlines to cover expenses for things like rebooking, meals and more, when you face delays or cancellations that are the airline’s responsibility.”

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The transportation secretary also noted that passengers are “entitled to a full cash refund” if a flight is canceled for “any reason”.

At a press conference on Monday, Buttigieg said hiring more air traffic controllers, opening new air routes along the east coast and providing grants to airports for snowplows would help ease disruptions. He warned holiday travelers to check road and flight conditions before setting off.

“Mother Nature, of course, is the X factor in all of this,” he said.

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