Thanksgiving travel is expected to increase: tips for drivers, flyers this holiday season

The number of people traveling during Thanksgiving is expected to increase this year to just below pre-pandemic levels.

AAA predicts that 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this year. That represents a 1.5% increase from 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes, making it the third-busiest for Thanksgiving travel since 2000.

Most travelers will drive, with nearly 49 million expected to travel by car, though car traffic remains 2.5% below 2019 levels.

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An airplane flies over the Washington Monument

An airplane flies over the Washington Monument in Washington, DC on November 24, 2021 (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, 4.5 million Americans are expected to fly over this year’s long holiday weekend, up nearly 8% from 2021. According to AAA, that’s an increase of more than 330,000 travelers and nearly 99% of 2019’s volume.

“Airport parking lots fill up quickly, so reserve a spot in advance and arrive early,” says Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel. “Anticipate long TSA lines. If possible, avoid checking a bag to provide more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule.”

Holiday travelers at Penn Station in New York

The day before Thanksgiving, holiday travelers arrive at the Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station in New York City on November 24, 2021. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images/Getty Images)

More than 1.4 million travelers take a bus, train or cruise ship – an increase of 23% compared to 2021 and 96% of the 2019 volume.

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Analytics firm INRIX expects severe traffic congestion in several U.S. metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles, with some drivers experiencing more than double the normal delays.

Traffic in Los Angeles

Traffic slows down on the Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2021. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Recommended travel is early morning on Wednesday or before 11 a.m. local time on Thanksgiving Day.

Drivers should avoid traveling between 4pm and 8pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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

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