The Thanksgiving travel rush is back with some new habits

Thanksgiving tourism rebounded this year as people caught planes in numbers not seen in years and put aside fears of inflation to reunite with loved ones and enjoy a bit of normalcy after two holiday seasons marred by COVID-19 restrictions.

However, changing your work and play habits can spread out the crowds and reduce the usual amount of stress associated with vacation travel. Experts say many people will start their holidays earlier or come home later than usual because they’ll spend a few days working remotely – or at least tell their boss they’re working remotely.

The busiest travel days during Thanksgiving week are usually the Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday after the holiday. This year, the Federal Aviation Administration expects Tuesday to be the busiest travel day with about 48,000 scheduled flights.

Chris Williams of Raleigh, North Carolina flew his wife and two children to Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday morning to spend the holidays with extended family.

“Obviously it’s stressful and expensive to fly,” said Williams, 44, who works in finance. “But after several years of not being able to spend Thanksgiving with our extended family, I’d say we’re thankful that the world has gotten to a safe enough place to be with loved ones again.”

Although Williams said the family budget was tight this year, he took the opportunity to teach his children the basics of personal finance. His youngest, 11, has been learning how to budget her allowance since March and is excited to buy her friends little gifts on Black Friday or Cyber ​​Monday. “Probably slime,” she said, “with glitter.”

The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2.3 million passengers Tuesday, down from more than 2.4 million screened on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2019. On Monday, those numbers were up from 2019 — more than 2.6 million passengers compared to 2.5 million. The same trend occurred on Sunday, the first year that the number of people catching planes the week of Thanksgiving surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

“People travel on different days. Not everyone is traveling that Wednesday night,” says Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of business group Airlines for America. “People are spreading their trips out over the week, which I think will also help ensure smoother traffic.”

AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home in the U.S. this week, a 1.5% increase over Thanksgiving last year and only a 2% decrease from 2019. The auto club and insurance retailer reports , that almost 49 million of them travel by car and between Wednesday and Sunday 4.5 million will fly.

US airlines have struggled to keep up as passenger numbers have surged this year.

“We’ve had a challenging summer,” said Pinkerton, whose group speaks for members including American, United and Delta. She said airlines have scaled back their schedules and hired thousands of workers – now they have more pilots than before the pandemic. “As a result, we’re confident the week will go well.

U.S. airlines plan to operate 13% fewer flights this week than they did during Thanksgiving week in 2019. However, using larger planes will only decrease the number of seats by 2% on average, according to data from travel researcher Cirium.

Airlines continue to blame flight disruptions on a shortage of air traffic controllers, particularly in Florida, a major vacation destination.

Controllers who work for the Federal Aviation Administration “get tested around the holidays. That’s when we seem to have problems,” Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle said a few days ago. “The FAA is adding another 10% to the workforce, hopefully that will be enough.”

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg disputed such claims, saying the vast majority of delays and cancellations were caused by the airlines themselves.

TSA expects airports to be busier than last year and likely to be about the same level as 2019. The busiest day in TSA history came on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, when nearly 2.9 million people were screened at airport checkpoints.

Stephanie Escutia, who is traveling with her four children, husband and mother, said it took the family four hours to get through screening and security at the Orlando airport early Tuesday morning. The family was returning to Kansas City in time for Thanksgiving after a birthday trip to Disney World.

“We were surprised how full the park was,” said Escutia, 32. “We thought it might be down, but it was packed.”

She welcomed the sense of normalcy and said her family will get together for Thanksgiving this year without worrying about keeping their distance. “We are now back to normal and looking forward to a nice holiday,” she said.

People who get behind the wheel or get on a plane don’t seem to be worried about higher gas and plane prices than last year or widespread concerns about inflation and the economy. This is already leading to strong travel forecasts over Christmas and New Year.

“This pent-up demand for travel is still real. It doesn’t seem to be going away,” says Tom Hall, vice president and longtime writer for travel guide publisher Lonely Planet. “That’s keeping the planes full, that’s keeping the prices high.”

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Associated Press writers Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina, Margaret Stafford in Kansas City and AP video reporter Terence Chea in Oakland, California contributed to this report.

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David Koenig can be reached at twitter.com/airlinewriter

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