Busiest Thanksgiving Travel Days Are Still to Come

As the holiday season intensifies, a surge of travelers is expected, with approximately 2.7 million people set to fly on Wednesday alone, and countless others driving to Thanksgiving gatherings.

Airlines are expressing confidence in their ability to handle the holiday rush without significant disruptions, a stark contrast to the operational chaos experienced by Southwest Airlines last Christmas. In response to past challenges, airlines have bolstered their workforce by tens of thousands in recent years. Southwest, for example, has invested in additional winter equipment to ensure smooth operations in freezing conditions.

Travelers may face lengthy security lines at airports due to the influx of passengers. Delta Air Lines advises domestic travelers to arrive at least two hours before their flight, and three hours in advance for international flights, particularly on the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will also be under scrutiny, following air traffic controller shortages at crucial facilities, which led to flight reductions in the New York City area earlier this year.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in a Monday news conference, highlighted the government’s preparation for the holiday season. This includes hiring more air traffic controllers, establishing new air routes along the East Coast, and funding airports for snow removal and de-icing equipment.

The FAA notes that weather is a primary cause of flight delays, with nearly three-fourths of delays attributed to weather conditions. This year, however, the rate of flight cancellations has decreased compared to last year, when staffing shortages hindered the industry’s post-pandemic recovery.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) anticipates screening 2.7 million passengers on Wednesday and a record-breaking 2.9 million on Sunday, the peak day for return travel. This figure is poised to surpass the TSA’s previous record set on June 30.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske expressed confidence in the agency’s preparedness, appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Tuesday. He advised travelers to allow extra time for airport processes and to show appreciation for the staff working through the holidays.

AAA estimates that 55.4 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home during the holiday period, with 49.1 million of them choosing to drive. This forecast ranks as the third highest in AAA’s history.

Motorists will find some relief with lower gasoline prices compared to last year, with AAA reporting a national average of $3.29 per gallon on Tuesday, down from $3.66 a year earlier.

Airfare prices are also more favorable. October airfares dropped 13% from the previous year, with Thanksgiving fares averaging about 14% lower, according to travel site Hopper.

Despite these lower costs, many travelers are still feeling the pinch of high expenses in other areas. Jason McQueary, a 25-year-old social worker and graduate student, shared that the majority of his income goes towards rent and essential expenses. He was thankful for credit card points that reduced his Denver to Chicago flight cost from $450 to $150, remarking on the financial strain of annual visits home. McQueary arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Tuesday, ready to spend Thanksgiving with his family in Byron, Illinois.