Thanksgiving is a holiday for family, food, and football.
And travel. Lots and lots of travel.
Nearly 55 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving travel period (the five-day period between Wednesday, Nov. 23 – Sunday, Nov. 27), according to AAA.
In a sign of society normalizing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that total represents a 1.5% increase over 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes.
In fact 2022 will mark the third busiest Thanksgiving travel year since AAA started tracking the stat in 2000.
Most travelers will be driving to their destinations this year, with nearly 49 million Americans hitting the road, a 0.4% increase from 2021.
But in what could be a function of high gas prices, car travel is expected to remain 2.5% below pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
Meanwhile air travel is seeing a big bounce back this year with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving dinner destinations.
“Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying,” Paula Twidale, AAA senior VP of travel said.
Americans’ Return To the Sky
Air travel during the Thanksgiving holiday this year is expected to increase by nearly 8% over 2021 levels. That’s an extra 330,000 flyers this year, representing nearly 99% of 2019 volume.
AAA’s forecast tracks with a JD Power report stating that global airline passenger levels are nearly back up to 91% of pre-pandemic levels.
The nightmare airport scenes from earlier this year may seem like a distant memory for some, but for those passengers who were caught in the middle of the storm, AAA has some advice.
“Airport parking spaces fill up fast, so reserve a spot ahead of time and arrive early,” Twidale suggests. “Anticipate long TSA lines. If possible, avoid checking a bag to allow for more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule.”
Busiest Roads/Worst Travel Times
Road traffic isn’t distributed equally of course, with certain corridors seeing a lot more traffic than others.
AAA says highways in and around Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles will be the busiest. The most hectic times to drive being early in the morning on Wednesday or before 11am on Thanksgiving Day.
Avoiding travel between 4pm and 8pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is also recommended.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” says Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst, INRIX. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the holiday weekend. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”