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AAA predicts busy Thanksgiving weekend will near pre-pandemic travel levels

Airlines try to return to normal amid spread of COVID-19
Posted at 7:09 PM, Nov 09, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — After a sharp decline last year because of the pandemic, busy airports and congested roads could be part of your holiday travel this year.

AAA predicts 53.4 million Americans will travel over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It's a 13% increase from 2020.

The 2021 travel estimate nears pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, AAA predicted 55 million people would travel for Thanksgiving, one of the highest travel volumes and about 5% higher than this year's estimate.

"The appetite for travel looks pretty strong this holiday season," said Lori Weaver Hawkins of AAA Bluegrass. "Please give yourself a lot of extra time. That's going to be the key no matter how you're traveling."

Air travel is expected to increase by 80% compared to 2020, with AAA estimating 4.2 million people will choose to fly.

Weaver Hawkins said crowds and long TSA lines can be expected, and travelers should be prepared in case of flight delays or cancelations.

AAA advises booking early flights to allocate extra time in the day in case a flight does need to be rebooked.

"Being an early bird this Thanksgiving holiday travel season is your best bet," Weaver Hawkins said.

Driving will be the preferred method of transportation for most travelers. AAA predicts 48.3 million, or 90%, of travelers will hit the roads for the holiday weekend.

"People are definitely thinking about getting back out and seeing their family and friends for this holiday season, despite higher gas prices," Weaver Hawkins said.

She said to expect a lot of traffic and plan ahead for it.

Traveling in the morning is one of the best ways to avoid traffic, according to AAA. However, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the least congested period will be in the evening after 8 p.m.

If you can, AAA recommends planning your trip around rush hour in busy metropolitan areas.

"We're predicting that in some cases we're going to see traffic volume be 200% or 400% greater than what you would have on a normal day," Weaver Hawkins said. "That's going to cause some delays."

AAA also recommends getting your car checked out before hitting the road.

"We're estimating we'll probably have to come to the rescue of about 400,000 folks across the nation," Weaver Hawkins said. "Have your brakes, fluid levels, tires, battery, and all those things checked out. We don't want anyone to have their travel ruined this Thanksgiving because of a breakdown."

While COVID-19 cases are declining and many states have lifted restrictions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued recommendations to minimize COVID-19 risk.

The CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated. If you are not fully vaccinated or will be around unvaccinated people, the agency recommends wearing a mask in public indoor settings, avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated spaces, and getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms.