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Thanksgiving travel expected to reach pre-pandemic levels nationwide

About 49 million people are expected to travel by car to their Thanksgiving destinations – a 0.4% increase over 2021.
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About 49 million people are expected to travel by car to their Thanksgiving destinations – a 0.4% increase over 2021.

News brief

The holiday season is upon us, which means people are starting to travel to dinners and get-togethers for Thanksgiving. Whether by car or by air, travel is up around the nation.

The American Automobile Association predicts that national travel will be back up to pre-pandemic levels, with 54.6 million people traveling more than 50 miles for the holiday. With a 1.5% increase over 2021, this season is expected to be the third-busiest since the organization started collecting data in 2000.

“Broadly, travel confidence has hit its post-pandemic high,” said Skyler McKinley with AAA. “And even though there's a lot of uncertainty about inflation and sort of what's on the economic horizon, folks are deciding with the money they have right now, they're going to travel right now.”

McKinley said se ve r al fac to r s are a t p lay as to why these numbers are up. Some people are “revenge traveling,” meaning they want to travel more after being pent up for so long due to the pandemic. Some are more motivated by spending time with family members they haven't seen in quite some time.

“I would say Americans see travel as a right, not a privilege, especially when it comes to Thanksgiving,” he said. “So returning to pre-pandemic levels is very interesting given the complexities of everything that's going on.”

Most travelers choose to drive. About 49 million people are expected to travel by car to their Thanksgiving destinations — a 0.4% increase over 2021.

Thanksgiving is largely a road trip holiday. It is largely a short travel holiday,” McKinley said. “And so folks are now in the West more distant from their families than they've ever been … So all of that leads to more travelers.”

Air travel is up by 8% since last year, with 4.5 million people flying. Denver International Airport said in a press release that it expects more than 590,000 travelers to pass through its security checkpoints between Friday, Nov. 18 and Saturday, Nov. 26. That's an increase of 12.2% over the same period in 2021.

Stephanie Figeroa with the Denver International Airport reminds travelers to be prepared before heading out.

“Check with your airline before heading to the airport to make sure everything looks good and the flight is on time, [ that ] it's not delayed or canceled,” she said.

Figeroa also recommends that passengers arrive two hours before their flight to get through security on time.

DIA expects the busiest travel days to be Tuesday, Nov. 22 and Wednesday, Nov. 23, with more than 75,000 people passing through security checkpoints each of those days.

Some Americans — more than 1.4 million — will be using an alternative form of transportation over Thanksgiving, such as a bus or train. That’s a 23% increase from last year.

Transportation officials generally recommend leaving in the early morning or late evening – before 11 a.m. and after 8 p.m.– in order to avoid holiday traffic.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Emma VandenEinde
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