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Thanksgiving travel this year will look a lot like the pre-pandemic era

November 17, 2022, 4:13 PM UTC
54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving, says AAA.
Francine Orr—Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Given how crowded airports have been this year, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Thanksgiving travel is going to be packed this year. But you still might want to brace yourself if you’re about to hit the road.

AAA says 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more this year, a 1.5% increase over 2021 and the third-busiest Thanksgiving on record since the group began tracking travel in 2000. (That’s a little shy of the 2019 level, which saw 56 million passengers hit the road.)

“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel, in a statement. “Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying.”

If you’re flying, the trip could be especially frustrating. Not only are carriers dealing with staff shortages and, in many cases, a reduced number of flights, but the overall number of people taking to the skies is expected to be up 8% compared to last year. Some 4.5 million Americans will fly to their destination. Brace yourself for long lines at the TSA and a possible shortage of parking spaces.

In general, though, people drive to their destinations. Nearly 49 million people are expected to take to the road. Wed., Nov. 23, will be the busiest day, but expect to encounter heaver than usual congestion starting the day before.

If you’re hitting the road on the 23rd, it’s best to avoid travel between 11:00 a.m. and 8 p.m., says AAA. The worst travel times on the 24th will be from 11:00 a.m. through 3:00 p.m. For the next three days, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. will be the most congested.

How bad will the roads be? AAA has some estimates on the increases over typical traffic some cities will see:

Atlanta: I-85 South from Clairmont Rd. to MLK Jr Dr. will see a 105% increase.

Chicago: I-290 West from Morgan St to Wolf Rd will see a 99% bump.

Los Angeles: I-5 South, between Colorado St and Florence Ave can expect a surge of 144%.

New York: If you’re traveling I-278 South, expect a 158% increase between I-495 and Sixth Ave.

Seattle: Look for an 86% increase along I-5 South, from WA-18 to WA-7.

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