Thanksgiving travel rush is back with some new habits

The Thanksgiving travel rush returned this year, as people caught planes not seen in years, putting inflation worries aside to reunite with loved ones and enjoy some normalcy after two holiday seasons marred by COVID-19 restrictions.

Changing habits around work and play, however, can spread the crowds and reduce the usual amount of stress on vacation travel. Experts say many people will start their holiday trips early or return home later than normal because they’ll spend a few days working remotely, or at least tell their boss they’re working remotely.

The busiest travel days during Thanksgiving week are usually Tuesday, Wednesday, and the Sunday after the holiday. This year, the Federal Aviation Administration expects Tuesday to be the busiest travel day, with about 48,000 flights scheduled.

Chris Williams, of Raleigh, North Carolina, flew to Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and two children on Tuesday morning to spend the holidays with extended family.

“Of course, it’s a stressful and expensive time to fly,” said Williams, 44, who works in finance. “But after a couple of thankful years of not spending time with our extended family, I’d say we’re thankful that the world has come to a safe place where we can be with friends again.”

Although Williams said the family’s budget has been tight this year, she has taken the opportunity to teach her children the basics of personal finance. Her youngest, 11, has been learning how to budget for her grant money since March and is excited to buy little gifts for her friends on Black Friday or Cyber ​​Monday. “Probably slime,” he said, “with glitter.”

The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2.3 million passengers Tuesday, up from the 2.4 million projected for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2019. On Monday, the numbers were up compared to 2019 – more than 2.6 million passengers compared to 2.5 million. The same trend played out on Sunday, marking the first year in a year that the number of people catching planes during Thanksgiving week exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

“People are traveling on different days. Not everyone is traveling on that Wednesday night,” says Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of trade group Airlines for America. “People are spreading their travel throughout the week, which I think will also help ensure smoother operations.”

AAA predicts that 54.6 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home in the US this week, up 1.5% from Thanksgiving last year and only 2% less than in 2019. travel by car, and 4.5 million will fly between Wednesday and Sunday.

US airlines have struggled to keep up as passenger numbers have soared this year.

“We had a difficult summer,” said Pinkerton, whose team speaks among members American, United and Delta. He said airlines have reduced schedules and hired thousands of workers; now they have more pilots than the pandemic. “Consequently, we are sure that the week will go well.”

US airlines plan to operate 13% fewer flights this week than during Thanksgiving week 2019. However, using larger aircraft on average, the number of seats will drop by only 2%, according to data from travel researcher Cirium.

Airlines continue to blame flight disruptions on a shortage of air traffic controllers, particularly in Florida, a major vacation destination.

Controllers who work for the Federal Aviation Administration “are tested around the holidays. That seems to be when we have challenges,” Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle said a few days ago. “The FAA is adding another 10% to the workforce, hopefully that’s enough.”

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg disputed the claims, saying most of the delays and cancellations were caused by the airlines.

The TSA expects airports to be busier than last year and likely on par with 2019. The busiest day in TSA history was the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, when nearly 2.9 million people were screened at airport checkpoints.

Stephanie Escutia, traveling with her four children, husband and mother, said it took the family four hours to get through airport security and checks in Orlando early Tuesday morning. The family was returning to Kansas City in time for Thanksgiving after a birthday trip to Disney World.

“We were surprised at how full the park was,” Escutia, 32, said. “We thought it might go down but it was full.”

She welcomed the sense of normalcy, saying her family would gather for Thanksgiving this year without worrying about keeping their distance. “Now we’re back to normal and looking forward to a nice holiday,” he said.

The people who get behind the wheel or get on a plane don’t seem as motivated by higher gas and airplane prices or widespread concerns about inflation and the economy than they were last year. This already means the prospect of strong travel over Christmas and the New Year.

“This closed travel request is still the real thing. It doesn’t seem like it’s going away,” says Tom Hall, longtime writer and vice president of travel guide publisher Lonely Planet. “That’s keeping the planes full, that’s keeping the prices high.”


Associated Press writers Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina, Margaret Stafford in Kansas City and AP video reporter Terence Chea in Oakland, California contributed to this report.


David Koenig can be reached at

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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