Thanksgiving week has long been the busiest travel season of the year, and experts expect the number of people traveling and hitting the road to be close to what it was before the pandemic.
With travel restrictions lifted and COVID-19 deaths dropping dramatically across the United States, officials see a spike in travelers this week. Although the increase does not exceed the number of travelers seen in 2019 – before the pandemic – more people are traveling to see their loved ones this holiday.
More than 54.6 million people are expected to get on a plane, car, or take public transportation during Thanksgiving week, according to the American Automobile Assn.
“We expect to be busier this year than last year at this time, possibly very close to pre-pandemic levels,” TSA Administrator David Bikowski said in a statement.
The TSA has already seen more people travel this year over weekends than in recent years, when the COVID-19 pandemic had health officials advise forgoing non-essential travel.
TSA officials said the number of travelers this year could reach pre-2020 levels, and that as many as 2.5 million travelers may be screened at airports across the country on Wednesday. On Sunday, travelers can exceed that number.
That’s not far from the record 2.9 million people who passed through TSA checkpoints on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019.
Air travel and even family gatherings this year will also look a lot different than in recent years, when stay-at-home orders, mask requirements, and the sheer number of COVID-19 deaths prompted many people to avoid traveling to celebrate the holiday.
This week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, said people should be mindful of the elderly and those with weakened immune systems when gathering this holiday, and suggested getting a COVID-19 test before getting together to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.
This was a big change from Thanksgiving in 2020, when Fauci urged people to stay home, or keep gatherings small, and warned that getting together with people outside their household would put family members at risk.
But as the COVID-19 numbers drop, more people are expected to gather for the holiday.
For Thanksgiving week, Tuesday is set to be the busiest day for airports across the country, handling 48,082 passengers, According to the Federal Aviation Administration. Wednesday will also be full of last-minute commuters, with 45,721 passengers expected.
The travel rush should dwindle on Thanksgiving and the following couple of days. About 39,443 people are expected to travel by air on Saturday. By Sunday, the FAA expects crowds to return, with 46,790 passengers that day.
The surge in travelers this weekend also prompted airports and the 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 per day through November 28, according to a press release from Los Angeles World Airports.
It won’t just be at the stations where LAX passengers can see delays or long lines. Airport officials said as many as 97,000 vehicles per day will attempt to pick up or drop someone off at terminals.
This increase is still lower than that seen in 2019, before the pandemic, but airport officials report an increase of 20,000 people per day compared to the same period last year.
On Sunday, LAX officials expect up to 215,000 passengers.
“LAX is ready to welcome guests in what is expected to be the busiest travel period since 2019, and we are asking travelers to do their part to create a stress-free experience by planning parking, arriving early and taking time to relax,” said Justin Irbache, CEO of LAX. Global, in the statement “At the gate instead of turning with the traffic.”
Travelers are usually required to arrive two hours before they board for domestic flights and three hours before international flights, but officials said people may want to allow more time this week. This will be especially true between the hours of 5am to 10am, and mid-afternoon, which is considered the busiest time.
According to the Automobile Club, as many as 4.5 million people will travel in Southern California this week, including 3.9 million who will head to their destination.
It could mean a return to the one holiday tradition residents won’t look forward to: traffic.