Busy commutes on the menu for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving travel is getting back to pre-pandemic levels.

This Thanksgiving holiday week is expected to be the third busiest since AAA started tracking travel numbers in 2000. Although slightly less than pre-pandemic numbers, about 54.6 million Americans are expected to travel for Thanksgiving, according to AAA. That is 1.5% more travelers compared to 2021, which saw 53.8 million people travel for the holiday.

In Florida, about 2.9 million residents will travel this Thanksgiving, which is 2% more than last year and 0.74% more than 2019, according to AAA. It is also the highest Thanksgiving travel has been in the state since 2005.

“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of travel for AAA, in a press release. “Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying.”

Car travel is still the most popular means of travel for Americans this holiday with air travel as the second most popular.

Nationally, about 49 million people are expected to travel by car for Thanksgiving. The number of car travelers is up by 0.4% from 2021 but down by 2.5% from 2019, according to an AAA press release.

In Florida, about 2.7 million, or 91%, of Thanksgiving travelers will go by car. That is 28,000 more people on Florida’s roads compared to last year despite higher gas prices this year, according to AAA.

AAA recommends people leave early if they are traveling by car.

The worst time to travel by car Wednesday is from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to AAA. The best time to travel is before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m. The worst time to travel on Thanksgiving Day is between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The best time is before 11 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst for INRIX,  a company that offers transportation analytics, in a press release. “Although travel times will peak Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the holiday weekend.”

About 8% more people are traveling by air this Thanksgiving holiday compared to 2021.

About 4.5 million Americans will take a flight for the holiday, which is about 330,000 more people compared to last year, according to AAA.

The Thanksgiving holiday week is one of the busiest for Tampa International Airport.

The airport expects to see about 75,000 to 80,000 passengers on its busiest days, which are the Saturdays and Sundays before and after Thanksgiving, according to a press release.

Orlando International Airport is expecting to see about the same number of passengers as 2019 passing through the airport during its 12-day Thanksgiving travel period, which started Friday and ends Nov. 29.

About 1.75 million passengers are expected at the airport for the holiday — similar to 2019, which was a record year for the airport. This year, it will see about 10% more passengers than last year, according to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

“Being able to reach our record pre-pandemic traffic numbers this holiday season is a reality we didn’t think would happen for several years,” said Kevin Thibault, CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, in a press release.

Saturday is expected to be the busiest day of travel with about 165,100 passengers arriving at or departing from the airport.

Carolyn Fennell, a spokesperson for Orlando International Airport, recommends passengers travel light and arrive early.

“We’re expecting to be very busy,” she said.

Workman Transportation, a transportation service in The Villages, is preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday week.

The business’ airport shuttles, which travel to and from Orlando International Airport, are popular around the holidays. On Nov. 14, the business had its busiest day on record, with people calling to make reservations for the shuttles, said Linda Workman, one of the owners.

“We’re going to be very busy for Thanksgiving this year,” she said.

Tuesday and Wednesday and Nov. 28 and 29 are expected to be the busiest days for the airport shuttles.

Workman suggests travelers plan ahead and get on the shuttle with plenty of time to make it to their flight.

“Don’t cut it tight,” Workman said.