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AAA: Thanksgiving travel predicted to be third busiest since tracking began

Crystal Graham
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This year is projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000.

AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving. That’s a 1.5 percent increase over 2021 and 98 percent of pre-pandemic volumes.

“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” said Morgan Dean, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson. “Plan ahead and be prepared for backups and delays, whether you’re driving or flying, as the roads and airports are expected to both be busy this Thanksgiving season.”

Most travelers will drive to their destinations, much like last year. Nearly 49 million people are expected to travel by car. While Thanksgiving road trips have slightly risen – up 0.4 percent from 2021 – car travel remains 2.5 percent below 2019 levels.

Air travel is up nearly 8 percent over 2021, with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations this year. That’s an increase of more than 330,000 travelers and just 1 percent shy of the 2019 volume.

“Airport parking spaces fill up fast, so reserve a spot ahead of time and arrive early,” said Dean. “Anticipate long TSA lines. If possible, avoid checking a bag to allow for more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule.”

Americans are also ramping up travel by other modes of transportation. More than 1.4 million travelers are going out of town for Thanksgiving by bus, train or cruise ship. That’s an increase of 23 percent from 2021 and 96 percent of 2019 travel volumes.

“With travel restrictions lifted and more people comfortable taking public transportation again, it’s no surprise buses, trains and cruises are coming back in a big way,” said Dean. “Regardless of the mode of transportation you have chosen, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination. If your schedule is flexible, consider off-peak travel times during the holiday rush.”

The best and worst times to travel during the holiday have also been broken down by INRIX, one of the leading providers of data and analytics into how people move.

INRIX expects severe congestion in several U.S. metro areas, with some drivers experiencing more than double normal delays. Highways in and around Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles will be the busiest.

To avoid the most hectic times, INRIX recommends traveling early in the morning on Wednesday or before 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and avoiding travel between 4-8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the holiday weekend. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.