Thanksgiving Travel: Holiday Weekend Will Be The Busiest For Flying In 18 Years, AAA Predicts


More than 55 million Americans are expected to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday this month, AAA projected Monday, with this year’s holiday weekend expected to be the busiest for air travel in nearly two decades as travel continues to rebound after the pandemic.

Key Facts

An estimated 55.4 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more over Thanksgiving, with 49.1 million driving, 4.7 million flying and 1.55 million traveling by bus, train or cruise ship.

The total number of travelers is up 2.3% from last year and the number of drivers is up by 1.1%, though both remain approximately one to two percent lower than before the pandemic in 2019.

The number of people planning to fly is up by 6.6% over last year and 2.5% over 2019, with AAA predicting it will be the highest number of air travelers since 2005.

Cruise, train and bus travelers are expected to be up by nearly 11% since last year, as the cruise industry has bounced back since the Covid pandemic.

What To Watch For

The most crowded days for flying over Thanksgiving are expected to be the Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday, while Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving are likely to be the worst coming back. Drivers are expected to face the most traffic on Wednesday, particularly between the hours of 2:00 and 6:00 p.m. The best times to drive are before 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, before 10:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, before 11:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. on Friday or in the mornings on Saturday and Sunday.

Surprising Fact

If AAA’s projections pan out, this will be the third-busiest year for Thanksgiving travel since 2000, after 2005 and 2019.

What We Don’t Know

If a government shutdown will impact holiday travel. It’s possible the federal government could shut down starting November 18 if Congress doesn’t pass a spending bill in time, which would mean federal workers like TSA agents and air traffic controllers would continue working, but without pay. Large numbers of TSA agents called in sick during the last government shutdown in 2019, which runs the risk of delays if it happens again over the holiday travel period. The White House noted in September, before the last threat of a government shutdown, that airport employees being forced to work without pay “led to significant delays and longer wait times for travelers at airports across the country” during past shutdowns.

Further Reading

55.4 Million Americans Expected to Travel for Thanksgiving (AAA)

Thanksgiving shutdown sets up nightmare scenario for travels (The Hill)

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