More vacationers will hit airports and highways this Thanksgiving as lower prices for airline tickets and gasoline fuel the nation’s busiest travel time of the year.
Although travel demand remains strong, severe weather forecasts threaten to cause flight delays and traffic jams in large parts of the country. Transportation experts are urging people to be patient and expect delays.
“For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand, and during this holiday, we expect there to be more people on the roads, in the air and on the seas compared to 2022,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a statement. “Travel demand has been strong all year.”
AAA, the auto owners group that also tracks air travel, expects 4.7 million people to fly between Wednesday and Sunday. This is a 6.6% increase from last year and the highest number of Thanksgiving air travelers in nearly two decades.
Most Thanksgiving travelers will drive to their destination. AAA projects 49.1 million Americans will get behind the wheel, an increase of 1.7% from 2022.
Cheap gas prices could cause more people than usual to choose to travel by road. This year, the national average price of gasoline peaked in mid-August at $3.87 per gallon and has been falling since. The national average was $3.27 a gallon yesterday after falling for the ninth straight week, according to GasBuddy, a crowdsourced gas price search app. The average is down 25.9 cents from a month ago and 36.9 cents from a year ago.
“As millions of Americans prepare to hit the road for Thanksgiving, the national average is experiencing its longest declining streak in more than a year,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
Earlier this month, the average price of a domestic flight around Thanksgiving was down about 9% from last year, according to Hopper, a booking and price-tracking app. Kayak, the travel search engine, looked at a wider range of dates during the holidays and found a drop of about 18% around Thanksgiving.
The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 2.9 million passengers on Nov. 26, up from 2.88 million on June 30, the highest single-day total recorded by the agency.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the New York region’s four major airports as well as a network of bridges and tunnels in the region, expects more than 8.5 million people travel during an eight-day peak period. from November 20 to 27. The Port Authority said it expects more air travelers and motorists than ever before because of the popularity of remote work, which allows people to have more flexible plans.
INRIX, a transportation analytics provider, said Wednesday would be the busiest day on the roads, with average travel times up to 80% above normal levels in some metropolitan areas. Experts recommend leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest traffic jams during the holidays.
“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways,” Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a statement. “Travelers should prepare for long delays, particularly in and around major metropolises. »
Bad weather could interrupt road trips and flights, potentially affecting vacation plans for millions of people across the country.
Forecasts indicate a risk of violent storms in the South. Rain, thunderstorms, snow and ice are forecast for parts of the East through Wednesday.
Precipitation reached the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes Tuesday morning, making roads slippery and allowing delays at major airports like Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina. Further travel delays are likely as rain moves north into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast overnight. Farther north, particularly in New England, some lingering cold air could give way to areas of freezing rain or even a few inches of snow.
By Wednesday afternoon, some of the worst weather in the East should begin to ease, except in places like Maine. By Thanksgiving Day, there will be improvement across the country, except for a bout of snow in the Rocky Mountains.
The weather is expected to be windy for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but the balloons will likely still fly.
Judson Jones reports contributed.