We Can’t All Travel Like a President, But 54.6M Said to be Traveling for Thanksgiving Anyway
WASHINGTON — Fifty-four point six million people are predicted to travel 50 miles or more to celebrate Thanksgiving, a 1.5% increase over last year, and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes, according to AAA.
In fact, this year is projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since the not-for-profit member organization started tracking it in 2000 (2005 and 2019 being the previous busiest travel holidays, respectively).
“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel.
“Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying,” she said.
Most travelers will drive to their destinations, much like last year, said AAA, which develops its forecast in collaboration with S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Nearly 49 million people are expected to travel by car. While Thanksgiving road trips have slightly risen — up 0.4% from 2021 — car travel remains 2.5% below 2019 levels.
Air travel is up nearly 8% over 2021, with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations this year, the association said. That’s an increase of more than 330,000 travelers and nearly 99% of the 2019 volume.
Twidale said given the anticipated travel crush, those using the nation’s airports should be mindful that airport parking spaces fill up quickly.
AAA is advising air travelers to reserve a parking spot ahead of time and to arrive early. It’s also warning passengers to anticipate long TSA lines.
“If possible, avoid checking a bag to allow for more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule,” Twidale said.
Americans are also ramping up travel by other modes of transportation, according to AAA.
More than 1.4 million travelers are expected to leave town for Thanksgiving by bus, train or cruise ship. That’s an increase of 23% from 2021 and 96% of the 2019 volume.
“With travel restrictions lifted and more people comfortable taking public transportation again, it’s no surprise buses, trains, and cruises are coming back in a big way,” Twidale adds. “Regardless of the mode of transportation you have chosen, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination. If your schedule is flexible, consider off-peak travel times during the holiday rush.”
Like AAA, the U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit that advocates for the travel industry, found that nearly six in 10 Americans plan to travel during the upcoming holiday season.
Of that number, it said in a survey released earlier this month, more than one-quarter plan on traveling over Thanksgiving weekend, while at least half said they plan to travel sometime in December.
Reconnecting with loved ones is the prime motivator for travelers 55 and older, while younger travelers appear to be more motivated by deals and remote working opportunities.
Similar to prior years, reconnecting with loved ones leads travel motivators and is more influential for those 55 and older.
Approximately one in four travelers said they intend to combine work and leisure during the holiday season.
Overall, the Travel Association found, American travelers are adding an average of six days to holiday travel plans due to the ability to work from anywhere.
Also of interest is the fact that despite how much voters heard about inflation in the run-up to the midterm elections, concerns related to rising costs and inflation are not dissuading most travelers from leaving home.
Instead, the association said, they are shifting their travel behaviors. This includes shortening distance traveled, trip duration and staying with friends and family instead of paid accommodations.
INRIX, a private company based in Kickland, Washington, that provides location-based data, real-time traffic conditions to a variety of customers, has said it expects severe congestion in several U.S. metro areas, with some drivers experiencing more than double normal delays.
Highways in and around Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles, will be the busiest.
To avoid the most hectic times, INRIX recommends traveling early in the morning on Wednesday or before 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and avoiding travel between 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” said INRIX transportation analyst Bob Pishue in a press release.
“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,” he said.
So how will the weather impact all this moving about the country?
Well, according to The Weather Channel, it’s going to largely cooperate until most travelers are ready to head home.
The Weather Channel defines the Thanksgiving holiday travel period this year as the five-day period from Wednesday, Nov. 23, to Sunday, Nov. 27.
Weather-related travel delays will not be widespread early this week, but that will likely change from Thanksgiving Day through the weekend, especially in the South and East.
The haymaker behind the change is a large and slow-moving storm that will form over the deep South on Friday, bringing heavy rainfall and localized flooding to the region into Saturday, and then to the North and East as it continues to move towards New England.
That means a broad area from the Southeast into the Ohio and mid-Mississippi valleys could see rainfall either Saturday or Saturday night. Rainfall could be heavy at times in some of these areas.
Rain showers might push as far north and east as the southern Great Lakes and mid-Atlantic by late Saturday or Saturday night.
By Sunday, soaking rain could contribute to widespread travel delays in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic as the storm system tracks through those areas to finish the holiday weekend.
In the Northwest, rain showers are possible near the coast as snow spreads to interior portions of the region, The Weather Channel said.