TAMPA, Fla. — If you’re looking to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, pack plenty of patience as airlines and AAA are expecting to reach near pre-pandemic levels of holiday travel this year.
AAA predicts 53.4 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, an increase of 13% from 2020. This also brings travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels for the 2019 holiday, and AAA said this year’s forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005.
“Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.
Overall, AAA’s forecast breaks down to 48.3 million traveling by car and 4.2 million taking to the skies.
Mark Jenkins, a AAA spokesperson, explained compared to last year, more people are vaccinated and COVID cases are down, leading to more people feeling confident in traveling again.
“Think back on conditions before the pandemic: If you are used to seeing congestion on the highways where you travel for Thanksgiving, then you’re likely going to see it again. Expect congestion on the highways, long lines at the airports," said Jenkins.
If you're planning to drive, AAA said to leave early if you can and find alternate routes. If you're flying, pay close attention to your flight status and arrive at least two hours before your flight leaves.
After recent instances of mass flight cancellations and delays, Jenkins thinks you have to prepare for the unexpected, especially when flying.
“Unfortunately, you’re kind of at the mercy of the airlines and then the weather," said Jenkins. "Staffing has been a problem as of late, and there’s been a lot of talk that they’re going to try to shore that up in time for the holidays, but you also just have to realize that this is the time of year when inclement weather becomes an issue.”
Jenkins said flying out first thing in the morning could be your best opportunity to avoid delays or snags and suggests people consider travel insurance.
Delta said it expects to fly 550,000 passengers the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the most for the airline since the pandemic began in March 2020. Overall, Delta said they expect to fly 5.6 -5.9 million travelers from November 19 through November 30. Last year, Delta flew 2.2 million passengers and in 2019, the airline flew 6.3 million passengers.
Meantime, Dallas-based American Airlines said it would operate an average of 5,000 daily departures to more than 300 cities around the world. The airline said it expects the busiest travel days to be November 24 and November 30 with more than 5,500 scheduled departures on those days.
The Thanksgiving holiday will also put to the test the nation’s fight against the pandemic. With vaccination rates hitting plateaus and millions still unvaccinated, there remains a possibility of another spike in cases. Or the nation could move right through the holiday season without COVID making a big impact.
No matter what, travel over Thanksgiving is going to see a major increase despite high gas prices.