More people travel on Thanksgiving than any other holiday in the United States, hitting the road or boarding planes about a week early. Friday – November 17 this year – is generally viewed as the start of the holiday travel season, which extends to the Tuesday following the holiday, November 28 this year.
It’s already been a record year for travel: The Transportation Security Administration saw seven of the 10 busiest days in its history in 2023, said TSA Director David Pekoski. The TSA expects to screen more than 30 million passengers during this period, according to a press release, noting that the three busiest days historically were the previous Tuesday and Wednesday.And the following Sunday.
And don’t expect a delay on the roads – most Americans will arrive at their vacation destination by car. More than 55 million people are expected to drive at least 50 miles to their destination on Thanksgiving between Wednesday, November 22, and Sunday, November 26, and more than 49 million of them will drive. According to AAA. The organization expects this year to see the third-highest holiday travel numbers since 2000, marking a return to pre-pandemic levels.
Here’s what to expect — and when.
Days before the holiday: Friday – Tuesday
Travel and transport organizations said people traveling on holiday tend to extend the days they leave, meaning travelers will not face as much crowding in the days leading up to Wednesday.
While Friday, November 17 is expected to be the fourth busiest day for air travel during this period, According to the Airlines for America trade groupThe number of flights will increase on Saturday, November 18 and Sunday, November 19, rising from 39,055 flights to 44,147 flights. According to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Travel has traditionally been lighter on the Monday before Thanksgiving than on other days closer to the holiday, but United Airlines noted in its announcement that travel on off-peak days is fuller compared to 2019 — thanks in part to remote work. The airline said demand on the Monday before Thanksgiving was up nearly 10% compared to 2019 — while in contrast, demand on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was up just 3%. However, the Federal Aviation Administration says more than 46,000 flights are scheduled for Monday, November 20, more than on Saturday or Sunday, but far fewer than the peak day for travel, Wednesday.
On Tuesday, November 21, TSA is expected to screen 2.6 million travelers; The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects more than 48,000 flights per day.
The day before Thanksgiving: Wednesday, November 22
If you’re traveling on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you’ll have plenty of company. The Federal Aviation Administration says this is the day most flights are scheduled, 49,606 of them in the United States, to be exact.
The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 2.7 million passengers on Wednesday, and the trade group Airlines for America says this will be the second busiest day of the holiday for travelers.
Wednesday is also the day most drivers will be on the road, According to AAACiting data from transportation data company Inrix. If you’re loading a car that day, try to get moving before 11 a.m., the group said — the busiest time for those traveling by car will be between 2 to 6 p.m.
“The day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days on our roads,” said Bob Pescio, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metro stations.” “Knowing when and where congestion will arise can help reduce holiday traffic frustrations. Drivers are advised to use traffic apps, local DOT notices and 511 service For real-time updates.
Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 23 and Black Friday, November 24
It is itself one of the easiest days to travel during the holiday period: American Airlines pegs it as the lightest travel day during this period for travelers. If you plan to drive, AAA recommends doing so before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m., with the busiest time on the roads expected to be between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
While the Federal Aviation Administration expects more flights on Friday than on Saturday — 44,744 flights, roughly the same as Sunday, versus 41,640 on Saturday — American Airlines projects Saturday will be the fifth-busiest Thanksgiving day.
If you’re planning on hitting early Black Friday sales at your vacation destination, give yourself a break before heading home. INRIX says the busiest driving times will be between 12-4pm, and roads will be least crowded before 11am and after 7pm.
Saturday, November 25, Sunday, November 26, and Monday, November 27
Nearly 42,000 flights are scheduled for Saturday and about 45,000 flights are scheduled for Sunday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Overall, American Airlines said it expects Sunday to be its busiest travel day, with more than 3.2 million passengers traveling.
That’s the forecast shared by the TSA, which expects 2.9 million airline passengers to be screened on Sunday, Nov. 26, according to the TSA. United Airlines also announced that Sunday will be one of the company’s busiest travel days since before the pandemic. More than 517,000 people are expected to travel on a United flight that day, according to a press release from the company, 60,000 more than last year.
While data firm Cirium expects Sunday to be the biggest travel day of the year, passengers will still make their way on Monday – according to AAA, “While Sunday is typically the busiest day for repatriation, AAA data shows that Monday “It’s also a popular day to come back after Thanksgiving.”
American Airlines said Sunday will be the busiest travel day and Monday the second busiest with 6,100 and 6,000 departures respectively. Delta said it expects peak travel days during this period to include Sunday and Monday, and US Airways said those will be the first and third busiest days, respectively, for air travel during the Thanksgiving travel period.
And if you’re transporting dinner supplies for Thanksgiving or leftovers home afterward, TSA is prepared to potentially conduct additional screening if you have food in your carry-on bag and know what to put in the checked bag instead.
“If you can pour, spread, spray, pump or pour it, and it is larger than 3.4 ounces, it must be placed in a checked bag,” the TSA said on its website. “If you need to keep items cold during your flight, ice packs are allowed, but they must be frozen solid and not thawed when they pass security screening.”
The TSA noted that pie, turkey and stuffing can be carried, but cranberry sauce, gravy and wine must be checked. If you’re still continuing, the agency recommends packing it so it’s easy to take out of your bag and put it in the trash to be checked when it’s your turn at the checkpoint.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”