Thanksgiving week has always been the busiest travel time of the year, and experts expect the number of people flying and taking to the streets will be around what it was before the pandemic.
With travel restrictions gone and COVID-19 deaths in the United States significantly down, officials are seeing a significant increase in the number of travelers this week. Although the surge doesn’t quite outpace the number of travelers seen in 2019 – before the pandemic – more people are traveling on the holiday to see loved ones.
More than 54.6 million people are expected to board a plane, drive a car, or use public transit during Thanksgiving week, according to American Automobile Assn.
“We expect to be busier at this point this year than last year and likely very close to pre-pandemic levels,” Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement.
The TSA has already seen more people traveling on bank holiday weekends this year than in previous years, when public health officials were advising people to refrain from unnecessary travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
TSA officials said the number of travelers this year could reach pre-2020 levels and up to 2.5 million passengers could be screened at airports nationwide on Wednesday. On Sunday, travelers could potentially surpass that number.
That’s not far from the record-breaking 2.9 million people who passed through TSA checkpoints on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019.
Air travel and even family reunions will also look very different this year than in recent years, when stay-at-home and mask orders and a devastating number of COVID-19 deaths caused many to avoid travel to mark the holiday to celebrate .
This week dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said people should consider the elderly and immunocompromised when gathering this holiday and suggested a COVID-19 test be taken before the gathering to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus reduce.
That was a significant change from Thanksgiving 2020, when Fauci urged people to stay home or keep gatherings small and warned that socializing with people outside of their household would put family members at risk.
However, as COVID-19 numbers fall, more people are expected to gather for the holidays.
During Thanksgiving week, Tuesday is the busiest day at airports across the country, with 48,082 passengers. according to the Federal Aviation Authority. Wednesday would also be packed with last-minute travelers, with 45,721 passengers expected.
The travel rush should ease over Thanksgiving and the following two days. Around 39,443 people are expected to travel by plane on Saturday. By Sunday, however, the FAA expects crowds to return as 46,790 passengers fly that day.
The surge in travelers this weekend is also prompting airports and TSA to warn people to get to airports early, considering the possibility of delays from traffic or long security lines.
Los Angeles International Airport expects more than 200,000 passengers daily through November. 28, according to a press release from Los Angeles World Airports.
Travelers at LAX could not only see delays or long queues in the terminals. According to airport officials, up to 97,000 vehicles will try to pick up or drop off someone at the terminals every day.
That increase is still smaller than in pre-pandemic 2019, but airport officials note that it’s 20,000 more people daily than in the same period last year.
LAX officials expect up to 215,000 travelers on Sunday.
“LAX is poised to welcome guests for what is expected to be the busiest holiday travel season since 2019, and we are asking travelers to do their part to create a hassle-free experience by planning your parking spot, arriving extra early and taking time to relax at the gate , rather than circling with traffic,” Justin Erbacci, chief executive officer of Los Angeles World Airports, said in a statement.
Travelers are usually told to arrive two hours before their boarding time for domestic flights and three hours before international flights, but officials said people might want to allow a little more time this week. This is especially true between 5am and 10am and in the afternoon, which is considered the busiest time.
According to the automobile club, up to 4.5 million people will be traveling in Southern California this week, including 3.9 million who will be driving to their destination.
That could mean a return to the one holiday tradition residents won’t look forward to: traffic.