How to Beat Thanksgiving Traffic This Year

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Traveling to see family this Thanksgiving? You aren’t alone. According to a travel forecast from AAA, 53.4 million people are planning on traveling in the U.S. during the Thanksgiving holiday period. And 90 percent of those travelers are going by car. That means if you’re planning on getting behind the wheel, you might want to start packing the trunk now to beat Thanksgiving traffic.

For years, sitting in stop-and-go traffic in a vehicle filled with foil-covered casseroles was as much a Thanksgiving tradition as fighting with your in-laws about politics. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that in 2020 (well, the former, not the latter). While travel has not returned to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, there are 6.4 million more people traveling this year than in 2020. Compared to last year, that’s an 8.4 percent increase for car travel and an 80 percent increase for air travel. In fact, with nearly two million more people traveling by air this year, it’s the largest one-year increase in history.

AAA says there are some economic factors leading to the upcoming Thanksgiving travel binge. They note that personal income is up, while the unemployment rate has fallen. While gas prices have increased more than a dollar since last year, they don’t seem to be having a large effect on travel plans.

What time should you get going?

When should you leave to make it to Thanksgiving dinner on time? If your drive involves a major metropolitan area, the Wednesday before the holiday will feature the heaviest traffic between 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. AAA suggests leaving before noon on that day or later at night, after 9 p.m. If you’re traveling on Thanksgiving itself, try to leave before 11 a.m.

As for your drive home, if you depart the day after Thanksgiving, try to get out before 11 a.m. Your best bet is to leave before noon, if you stay until Saturday or Sunday.

If you plan to travel by air, AAA says you should show up two hours before domestic flights or three hours before international. However, a vaccine mandate for federal employees (including TSA screeners) that goes into effect November 22 could throw some curveballs into your flight plans. Last month, TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN that a large percentage of TSA employees were still not vaccinated.

“We have about 60% of our workforce has been vaccinated, that that number needs to go quite a bit higher over the next few weeks,” Pekoske said in October.

When you add in the fact that some airports are busier due to the recent reopening of international flights into the U.S. for vaccinated travelers, you might want to think about driving to Thanksgiving. Just make sure you leave early.

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