If you're one of the millions of Americans packing up and setting off for the holidays next week, you're far from alone. But the busiest travel days for Thanksgiving may not be what you think. Whether you're going by plane, train, or automobile (you're welcome, John Candy fans), here's when to expect the most traffic.
We've all heard (or experienced firsthand) that Thanksgiving week is far and away one of the busiest times to be going from point A to point B. In the U.S., long-distance travel goes up by 54 percent during the six days from the Tuesday prior to the Sunday following Thanksgiving Day, according to data by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). (If you've put off buying your plane ticket to visit the fam, here's a few tips on avoiding the highest fares.)
The vast majority of Americans traveling for their holiday don't fly, though — about 91 percent of long-distance trips are made by vehicle, according to BTS. The data show that, for those road-tripping their way to their turkey, Thanksgiving Day (Thursday) is the busiest travel day that week, followed by Saturday and then Friday. The least-traveled days that week are Tuesday and Sunday.
For jet-setters, the conventional wisdom holds true, with Wednesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving week spawning the biggest airport lines. Travel guides consistently rank the Sunday of Thanksgiving among the worst days to book a return flight. FareCompare's CEO Rick Seaney wrote in an article for ABC News that the Wednesday prior and Sunday following Thanksgiving Day always take the cake for worst travel days to try and buy a ticket. If you're willing to travel on turkey day, Thursday tends to be shockingly quiet at the airport — with only about half of the year-long daily average. Saturday also comes in just under the daily average, and Tuesday and Friday aren't much worse than an average travel day, either.
If a normal year's holiday rush weren't enough, this year is supposed to be worse. This Thanksgiving is projected to see a highest volume of travel during the holiday week than the last dozen years. AAA expects that 50 million Americans will be traveling around Thanksgiving this year between Wednesday and Sunday. (That includes multiple modes of transportation.) More than 45 million drivers are expected to be on the road, and another 5 million will take to the skies and rails. Overall, it's a 3.3 percent increase from last year, and the most travelers total since 2005.
One of the biggest increases came to — gulp — air travel. This category of travel saw a 5 percent increase over last year, totaling 3.95 million travelers projected for 2017. But the good news is that the airfare has apparently gone down with all these flights, as this year travelers will enjoy the cheapest average prices since 2013.
The number of travelers driving also went up by over 3 percent, despite a surge in holiday rental car rates and the the highest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2014. And as for traffic? AAA predicts "travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. during the holiday week could be as much as three times longer than the optimal trip." Ouch.
As Bustle reports, Thanksgiving isn't just the busiest time of year to hit the road, it's also the busiest day to hit the books. And it's not hard to imagine why, with notoriously long hours of sitting in traffic and standing in TSA lines. My advice: Do as the Romans do, and brave the airport storm with a few good paperbacks in hand to get you through the darkest hours.