Here's what to expect from Thanksgiving travel

the U.S. Capitol dome is seen as traffic fills North Capitol Street on November 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.
The U.S. Capitol dome is seen as traffic fills North Capitol Street on November 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo credit (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

If you plan to travel for Thanksgiving, make sure your plans are in order. Traffic will not only be up to pre-pandemic levels, but this year is expected to have one of the top busiest Turkey Day travel weeks since 2000.

According to AAA predictions, 4.6 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving, a 1.5% increase (around 800,000 travelers) compared to last year.

This spike in travelers is expected to increase traffic volumes across the nation. For example, traffic is projected to increase 25% to 81% on roadways in the Houston area on the day before Thanksgiving, per AAA.

Overall, the organization created a forecast from that day through the Sunday following the holiday, which falls on Nov. 24 this year.

In addition to projected travel increases compared to last year, AAA estimates that holiday travel will be at 98% of pre-pandemic volumes. During the 2019 Thanksgiving travel period – just a few months before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic – travel reached its second highest peak since 2000. The highest peak was recorded in 2005.

AAA’s forecast indicates that this Thanksgiving travel season will land in the third spot.

“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” AAA Senior Vice President of Travel Paula Twidale said. “Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying.”

Projections show that most travelers, around 49 million people, plan to drive to their destinations. Data analytics company INRIX warned travelers that severe congestion is expected in several U.S. metro areas.

“Highways in and around Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles will be the busiest,” said AAA. “To avoid the most hectic times, INRIX recommends traveling early in the morning on Wednesday.”

At the latest, car travelers should hit the road by 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and avoiding travel between 4 and 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

While car travel is expected to dominate this Thanksgiving, air travel is up 8% compared to 2021 and up to almost 99% of pre-pandemic levels.

Twidale recommended that people traveling by air this Thanksgiving get to the airport early to make sure they can snag a parking space. She also said travelers should anticipate long security check lines and to avoid checking bags if they are concerned about travel delays.

Apart from cars and planes, AAA said that more than 1.4 million travelers plan to travel by bus, train or cruise ship. This segment of travelers is up 23% compared to last year and is now close to 96% of 2019 volume.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst for 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.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)