Thanksgiving is notoriously a big holiday for travel, whether by plane or car, and this year it’s predicted to be nearly as busy as pre-pandemic levels. While unnecessary travel was strongly discouraged in 2020 due to COVID-19, Thanksgiving 2021 is welcoming families back together with open borders, so even international travelers can partake in the turkey feasting. Dr. Anthony Fauci, M.D., chief medical advisor to the president, told ABC’s This Week on Oct. 17, “If you’re vaccinated and your family members are vaccinated… you can enjoy the holidays.” So, it’s safe to expect some pretty busy travel days around Thanksgiving this year.
But just because there will be increased traffic at the baggage claim or on the highway doesn’t mean you have to be doomed to navigate the hefty holiday crowds — or be stuck with exorbitantly priced airfare. According to Ellen Edmonds, spokesperson for the American Automobile Association (AAA), an expected 53.4 million people are planning to travel for Thanksgiving this year. “Travelers should book early and try to select off-peak times to avoid congested airports and roadways,” she tells Elite Daily. So, you may want to get a head start on crafting your holiday travel itinerary to avoid the busiest travel days for Thanksgiving 2021. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to be extra COVID-safe by choosing less crowded travel days, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still advises avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated places. Find everything to know about Thanksgiving 2021 travel below.
Staying Safe While Traveling For Thanksgiving
While choosing slower days to travel for Thanksgiving can help you avoid crowds, the CDC advises that the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during the holidays and minimize COVID-19 risk is to get “vaccinated if you’re eligible” and to delay travel until you’re fully vaccinated. Note that even vaccinated people are required to wear a mask on public transportation, and all international travelers coming into the U.S. must provide a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19. If you’re vaccinated, you’ll need to take the test within three days of international travel, and if you’re not vaccinated, you’ll need to take the test (and have your results ready) within 24 hours of your flight.
What Are The Busiest Travel Days Around Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is Thursday, Nov. 25 this year, and the days before and after the holiday are typically some of the busiest travel days of the year. “The Wednesday before Thanksgiving [is] the heaviest travel day,” Edmonds tells Elite Daily. “[In the] afternoon on Wednesday, roads will start to fill up.” She also says this year, the AAA expects a 13% increase in Thanksgiving travelers from last year — the highest single-year increase since 2005. (That’s a forecasted 53 million travelers in 2021, up from 41 million in 2020.) So, you can count on seeing many more people during your holiday travel this year than last.
Anna Brown, PR manager for Expedia, tells Elite Daily that the busiest day according to flight demand is the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, Nov. 24. It’s also the most popular day of arrival at vacation homes on sites like Vrbo. Travelers can also expect to see bigger crowds two days before Thanksgiving, Tuesday, Nov. 23, and the weekend before, Friday, Nov. 19, and Saturday, Nov. 20, as per Brown. According to Cara Johns, PR specialist for KAYAK, the weekend before Thanksgiving is also the busiest for international travel. Evade the long lines at the airport by arriving early, packing only a carry-on, and utilizing traveler programs like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.
Return flights are a bit more spread out, but the Sunday following the holiday, Nov. 29, is looking to be the busiest post-holiday travel day, per Edmonds. The 2019 airport screening record from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) listed the Sunday after Thanksgiving as the busiest travel day of the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday, with more than 2.8 million screened on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. This also made it the busiest travel day in TSA's 18-year history. While this year’s crowds might not match this number, it’s still smart to be prepared for longer lines if you’re traveling that Sunday.
How To Avoid Crowds While Traveling
The best way to steer clear of crowded flights and airports is not to fly on the busiest travel days of Thanksgiving. Since day-before-Thanksgiving travel is notoriously the most packed, Edmonds suggests flying on Monday, Nov. 22, instead. “Also, we suggest arriving early to the airport — at least two hours ahead for domestic travel and three hours ahead for international,” she tells Elite Daily.
Brown recommends booking non-stop, early morning flights to avoid crowds and potential delays. “If you can’t take a direct flight, make sure you give yourself more time than usual to make a connection just in case your first flight is delayed,” she tells Elite Daily. “Avoid taking the last flight of the day whenever possible, especially during the winter months, to reduce the chances of missed connections or delays due to cancellations or weather,” she adds.
If you're planning on driving to your destination, there are also some popular travel days and times you'll want to know about. The high traffic days are unsurprisingly the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday. According to INRIX data, the busiest traffic will hit on Wednesday starting at noon through 8 p.m., so it’s best to hit the road early or wait until after 9 p.m. to get going. If you plan to drive on Thanksgiving or the day after, it’s best to hit the road before 11 a.m., or before noon on Saturday or Sunday.
When Are Airline Tickets The Most Expensive?
Unsurprisingly, day-before-Thanksgiving travel will also cost the most in airfare. In order to save on plane tickets, Johns says your best bet is to book your tickets ASAP, as “prices historically increase” after Nov. 8 or so.
In addition to booking well in advance, Brown suggests being flexible with your dates to avoid the busiest travel days for Thanksgiving. “Flying out Monday, Nov. 22 could save you nearly 30% on airfare, especially when combined with a Friday return,” she tells Elite Daily, adding that prices are generally lower for the week before and after Thanksgiving, as well as on the holiday itself.
Anna Brown, PR manager at Expedia U.S.
Cara Johns, PR specialist for KAYAK
Ella Edmonds, spokesperson for AAA
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