Airports and U.S. airlines are girding for a swell of near pre-pandemic passenger volume over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The number of travelers is likely to reach the highest level in three years. Air travel is up nearly 8% over 2021, with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations this year. That’s an increase of more than 330,000 travelers and nearly 99% of the 2019 volume, according to AAA.
More than half of Americans expect to travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, with 70% of travelers planning to visit family and friends, according to data provided by Hopper, a travel booking app.
Here’s what to expect and how to prepare.
Expect packed airports and long lines at TSA checkpoints at peak times
The upshot is heavy crowds at airports. And that means it’s showtime for airports and airlines to prove that they’ve bounced back from last summer’s chaos.
If you flew last summer, you probably had a few mishaps, or you know someone who was left high and dry because of a canceled flight or a missed connection due to a delayed departure. Long lines for security check-in created even more mayhem.
The three busiest days during the Thanksgiving travel period are typically Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and Sunday after the holiday, according to The Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
TSA could screen as many as 2.5 million passengers at checkpoints nationwide on Wednesday and may surpass 2.5 million passengers on Sunday, Nov. 27.
That wouldn’t quite match the heaviest passenger screening volume on the Sunday following Thanksgiving in 2019, where Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) screened nearly 2.9 million passengers at checkpoints nationwide. On that same day in 2021, TSOs screened nearly 2.5 million passengers nationwide.
However, now with remote work, more people have flexibility with their travel dates and can steer clear of travel congestion, which may provide some relief, Aixa Diaz, AAA spokesperson, told Yahoo Money.
Advice for smooth holiday air travel
It never hurts to be prepared for a glitch by downloading your carrier’s mobile app to your phone so you can easily access information and updates for your flight – gate information, flight status, baggage tracking, automatic rebooking and more.
Be patient. Although the TSA announced in a press release last week that it is “prepared for more travelers at airport security checkpoints this holiday travel season,” travelers should still plan for long TSA lines at peak times and arrive early for flights. If possible, skip checking a bag to allow for more wiggle room if flights are delayed or you need to rebook.
For reference, about a quarter of flights by U.S carriers were delayed each day by around 50 minutes from Friday morning to Sunday night last weekend, according to the flight-tracking company FlightAware, although only a fraction of flights — less than 1% — or 556 flights were canceled.
“We are delighted that demand is returning,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Monday at an event at Chicago O'Hare Airport. “I would not say we're out of the woods ... But I am cautiously optimistic about this week being off to a good start.”
Weather could be the wild card, especially on the way back home. Forecasters aren’t calling for wintry blasts or damp days through Thanksgiving for most of the country, but stormy weather could be a spoiler in the eastern United States starting Friday.
Kerry is a Senior Columnist and Senior Reporter at Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon