More holiday travelers will pack airports and highways this Thanksgiving as a drop in airfare and gas prices stokes the nation’s busiest travel time of the year.
Even as travel demand holds strong, a severe weather forecast threatens to cause flight delays and traffic jams across swaths of the country. Transportation experts are urging people to be patient and to expect delays.
“For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand, and this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies and seas compared to 2022,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a statement. “Travel demand has been strong all year.”
AAA, the automobile owners’ group that also tracks air travel, expects that 4.7 million people will fly between Wednesday and Sunday. That is an increase of 6.6 percent compared with last year, and the highest number of Thanksgiving air travelers in nearly two decades.
Most Thanksgiving travelers will drive to their destinations. AAA projects 49.1 million Americans will get behind the wheel, an increase of 1.7 percent compared with 2022.
Cheap gas prices could be inspiring more people than usual to opt for traveling on the road. This year, the national average price of gasoline peaked in mid-August at $3.87 per gallon and has been coming down since. The national average was $3.27 per gallon yesterday after falling for the ninth consecutive week, according to GasBuddy, a crowdsourced gas-price finder app. The average is down 25.9 cents from a month ago and 36.9 cents from a year ago.
“As millions of Americans gear up to hit the road for Thanksgiving, the national average is seeing its longest streak of declines in over a year,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
Earlier this month, the average price for a domestic flight around Thanksgiving was down about 9 percent from a year ago, according to Hopper, a booking and price-tracking app. Kayak, the travel search engine, looked at a wider range of dates around the holidays and found a dip of about 18 percent around Thanksgiving.
The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 2.9 million passengers on Nov. 26, up a hair from about 2.88 million people on June 30, which was the highest single-day total recorded by the agency.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the four major New York City-area airports as well as a network of bridges and tunnels in the region, expects more than 8.5 million people to travel during an eight-day peak travel period from Nov. 20, to Nov. 27. The Port Authority said that it anticipated more air travelers and motorists than ever before because of the popularity of remote work, which allows people to have more flexible plans.
INRIX, a transportation analytics provider, said that Wednesday would be the busiest day on the roads, with average travel times as high as 80 percent over normal levels in some metro areas. Experts there recommended leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest holiday congestion.
“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways,” Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a statement. “Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros.”
Bad weather could interrupt road trips and flights, potentially affecting holiday plans for millions across the country.
Forecasts show a risk of severe storms in the South. Rain, thunderstorms, snow and ice are predicted along portions of the East through Wednesday.
Rainfall reached from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes on Tuesday morning, making roadways slick and allowing delays to tick up at major airports like Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C. More travel delays are likely as the rain pushes north into the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast overnight. Further north, especially across New England, some lingering cold air could allow for areas of freezing rain or even a few inches of snow.
By Wednesday afternoon, some of the worst weather in the East should start to subside, except in places like Maine. On Thanksgiving Day, there will be an improvement across the country, except for a bout of snow across the Rocky Mountains.
The weather should be blustery for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but the balloons will most likely still fly.
Judson Jones contributed reporting.