Main Hall at SeaTac airport

Thanksgiving Travel 2018: By The Numbers

Thanksgiving can arguably be said to be the most travelled US holiday of the year. Millions will board planes, trains, or hit the highway, and AAA is predicting that this Thanksgiving weekend will be the busiest since 2005. In fact, they are estimating that 54.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more between November 21 and 26.

For shorter traveled distances, a vast majority of travelers – 48.5 million – will hit the road this Thanksgiving, nearly 5 percent more than last year. Another 1.48 million passengers will travel by train, bus, or boat. Amtrak alone carried 777,000 passengers last Thanksgiving and have added additional trains and equipment this year as well.

Avoid the ‘Home Alone’ mad dash

As Alaska Airlines states, avoiding the ‘Home Alone’ dash can make your trip all the better. Frequent travelers often miss holiday flights. You should arrive at least two hours before departure – three hours before international flights. Airports are busier than usual, and they’re filled with less-experienced travelers around the holidays. That means lines are longer and slower, traffic is more congested, and parking is at a premium.

“We do tend to see guests missing flights around this time of year, and it’s not just inexperienced travelers – often it’s frequent travelers who are used to jetting from the curb to the gate in an hour and haven’t anticipated the slower lines,” said Lea Hanson, Alaska’s director of passenger services at Sea-Tac.

Getting To and Through Airports

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. airlines expect 30.6 million customers over this holiday travel period as airlines tend to be the most used form of transportation during Thanksgiving. No matter which air carrier travelers are flying, they are working to get millions of passengers from point A to point B.

The busiest travel days leading up to Thanksgiving will be the Friday and Wednesday before the holiday, with 2.6 million passengers and crew expected on each of those days. On November 25, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, more than 2.7 million travelers are expected to be flying home. On a typical weekday, TSA screens about 2.1 million passengers.  

Let’s face it, airports will be busy and due to increased crowds, airports and airlines are encouraging travelers to arrive at the airport two hours before departure for domestic flights and three hours prior for international flights. Plan for longer than normal security lines. Many airports list checkpoint wait times in the terminals. You can download the MyTSA app to find out how busy the airport is likely to be on your specific day and time of travel based on historical data. You can also check the delay information and current weather conditions at your favorite airports nationwide.

TSA has rolled out stronger security measures across the country. In addition to screening personal electronic devices separately, TSA officers may ask travelers to remove other items from their carry-on bags and place them in bins, such as foods, powders and any materials that can obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine. And, don’t forget to make sure the gifts you pack in your carry-on or checked baggage are unwrapped.

Airline’s Holiday Operations

Delta has already flown more than a million passengers this week, with the peak day being this Sunday when 650,000 passengers will take to the skies worldwide. Delta estimates that 4.7 million passengers will fly with them through the Monday following Thanksgiving.

From November 16-27, American Airlines will schedule 70,797 flights worldwide, with the busiest day being Sunday, November 25 with 6,803 flights on that day alone. The lightest day of scheduled flights is actually Thanksgiving itself with 3,209 scheduled flights.

Through and through, there are people traveling every which direction over the Thanksgiving holiday. Give yourself extra time and plan on traffic, lines, and waiting. But overall, make sure to enjoy your holiday.

Image: Food court at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

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