Thanksgiving travelers can expect packed roads and long lines at airports as more than 50 million people will make a getaway over the five-day holiday weekend, the most since 2005.
The majority — 45.5 million — will make the trip by car, according to estimates from AAA, but airport terminals will be busy, too, as more than 2.3 million people will board planes each day between Wednesday and Sunday, according to trade group Airlines for America.
No matter the mode, leaving sooner rather than later is the best advice to beat the holiday rush that will begin building Tuesday afternoon and peak on Wednesday afternoon and evening when the highest number of travelers will be on the move. Sunday and Monday also will be heavy travel days, experts said.
For motorists, good weather in the Upper Midwest — no major snowstorms in sight but there is a chance of rain on Friday — should make things a bit smoother, but it will cost more as gas prices will be at their highest in three years, AAA said.
This November’s national average price is $2.54, which is 37 cents more than last November.
Here are some travel tips:
Going by car
“Thanksgiving has historically been one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year we could see record-level travel delays,” said Bob Pishue, of INRIX, a global transportation analytics company.
To miss the stress of heavy traffic, Google says the best time for Twin Cities drivers to head out is at 5 a.m. Thursday. The worst time to start a trip is 4 p.m. Wednesday, not surprising as holiday drivers will be sharing the roads with rush hour commuters. To avoid traffic on the return trip, Google suggests traveling at 4 a.m. Friday, yawn. But definitely don’t hit the local highways on Friday afternoon as Black Friday shoppers will produce an uptick in traffic, with roads most likely to be clogged between noon and 5 p.m. Early Saturday or Sunday is also a good time to get back home, but you will have lots of company on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, Google said.
Holiday travel, combined with holiday drinking, results in hundreds of deaths and injuries every Thanksgiving weekend, the National Safety Council said. The council estimates 421 people may be killed and another 48,500 may be seriously injured in car crashes. To that end, the State Patrol advises motorists not to drink and drive and to wear seat belts, put down phones and obey speed limits. DWI enforcement will be in effect Wednesday through Sunday.
MnDOT has wrapped up most road construction, but warns drivers to stay up on current road conditions, which sometimes means driving slower than the posted limit. Travel conditions and hazards are posted on 511mn.org.
“With more people projected to travel this year, knowing what the driving conditions are before you leave can make it a safer holiday for you and your family,” said MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle.
Thanksgiving is shaping up to be the busiest for air travel in more than a decade due to moderate airfares and solid employment rates. Nearly 4 million travelers will take to the skies this Thanksgiving holiday, marking a 5 percent increase over last year, AAA says.
“Airfares are really reasonable and more people have jobs,” said George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog. “Plus, we are seeing some pretty stiff competition between airlines.”
The U.S. unemployment rate is currently down to 4.3 percent.
Passengers will pay the cheapest average airfare in five years. On average, a round-trip ticket on the 40 most popular domestic routes costs $157, a 23 percent drop from a year ago.
U.S. airlines will add a cumulative 86,000 seats each day during the holiday period to accommodate the demand, said Airlines for America, the industry trade group. That’s 3.2 percent more available seats than last year
Hobica said the discount carriers — like Spirit, Frontier and even Sun Country airlines — have had an impact. Their lower fares have maintained downward pressure on airfares, a positive for consumers.
On Wednesday, MSP will see the most travelers (37,000) with Sunday right behind (35,100), said John Welbes of the Metropolitan Airports Commission. Thursday and Friday (18,200) will be among the slowest days of the year at the airport.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) predicts that it will screen 2.6 million people nationwide on Sunday, which would make it one of the five busiest days ever. To handle the crunch, MSP will have all its 16 security lines open. However, the skyway level checkpoint between Concourses A and G will not be open Thursday or Friday due to historical low passenger volume based on the fact it is used primarily by business passengers, said TSA spokeswoman Laurie Dankers.
Passenger screening canines will be in the checkpoint area helping to expedite the security process, Dankers said. In addition, signs at the North and South checkpoints will allow passengers to see how long their wait will be. Wait times also are posted online. The Queue Management System, which tracks passenger waits, was recently upgraded and is much more accurate than when it was first put in, Welbes said.
Welbes recommends passengers arrive two hours early to be safe, and add in more time if fliers will be parking, checking baggage or traveling with children. While the ramps at MSP should be able to accommodate everybody, he said, cheaper options include the airport’s Quick Ride lot, which provides shuttle service to the terminals.
Construction both inside and outside Terminal 1 continues, but that should not cause inconveniences for travelers, he said.
There have not been lines to get in the ramps as all entry plazas are now open, and the main escalator is still taking passengers from the tram level to the ticket level, Welbes said.
“We are in much better shape than a few months ago,” he said. Still, “to reduce stress, build in extra time to get through security and to get to the gate after passing through.”