Thanksgiving Travel Continues Post-Pandemic Rebound

Nov. 20, 2023
TSA predicts that it will break its record for airline passengers screened in a single day — more than 2.8 million people — on Sunday, which is traditionally the busiest air travel day of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nov. 20—Holiday travel is in full rebound from the pandemic, with the number of people taking trips projected to reach levels not seen since 2019.

Those traveling by car will enjoy lower gas prices than last year, but more traffic. And possible rain in the forecast could further complicate travel.

AAA predicts that approximately 55 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home between Wednesday and Saturday, the third highest total since it started tracking Thanksgiving travel in 2000. Only 2019 and 2005 were higher.

"For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand-in-hand, and this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies and seas compared to 2022," Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a press release.

The vast majority of travelers — about 49 million — will go by car, 1.7% more than last year.

By the numbers

— 49,130,000: people expected to travel by car between Wednesday and Sunday

— 4,690,000: people expected to travel by air between Wednesday and Sunday

— $3.25: the projected average national price for a gallon of gas, down from $3.56 a year ago.

— 2 to 6 p.m.: peak traffic congestion on Wednesday, predicted to be the busiest travel day of the holiday

— 96%: chance of precipitation on Tuesday, according to AccuWeather

— 51 degrees Fahrenheit: the predicted high temperature on Tuesday, according to AccuWeather

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission predicts that about 3.3 million vehicles will travel on the turnpike over the holiday, 2.3% more than last year.

Drivers should see lower gas prices than last Thanksgiving — an average of $3.25 per gallon, versus $3.56 a year ago, according to GasBuddy.

Other forms of travel are expected to meet or exceed pre-pandemic levels. The number of air travelers will be higher than ever — 4.7 million, according to AAA. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration predicts that it will break its record for airline passengers screened in a single day — more than 2.8 million people — on Sunday, which is traditionally the busiest air travel day of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Harrisburg International Airport expects about 26,000 travelers between Tuesday and Sunday, about 5% more than last year, according to Scott Miller, the airport's deputy director of marketing and public relations.

"We're not where we were in that record year of 2019, but we are getting closer," Miller said.

When to travel

For drivers heading out onto the roads it's possible to avoid the heaviest gridlock by traveling early in the morning or in the evening, according to Bob Pishue, analyst at the INRIX transportation analytics firm.

"The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros," Pishue said in a press release. "Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations."

INRIX projects that traffic on Wednesday will be at its heaviest between 2 and 6 p.m., with trips in major metropolitan areas taking up to 80% longer.

On Thursday, the worst traffic will occur between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Other heavy traffic periods are Friday from noon to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday between 3 and 5 p.m.

State police are planning sobriety checkpoints and extra patrols starting Wednesday and running through the New Year's holiday. According to the state Department of Transportation, there were 63 fatalities statewide from vehicle crashes involving alcohol and or drugs during that period in 2022.

There is potential for rain in the forecast during the busiest travel period. AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyssa Glenny said a storm could lead to rain late Tuesday or early Wednesday, but the exact timing could change. Some snow is forecast in the Great Lakes region, but not in Pennsylvania, where temperatures are expected to be in the 40s and 50s.


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