Thanksgiving travel chaos was on full display at airports throughout the country on Tuesday, as thousands of people try to visit loved ones for the holiday – many for the first time since the pandemic began last year.
The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 20 million passengers pass through its checkpoints through next Sunday, it announced last week, with Administrator David Pekoske saying: ‘We anticipate that travel may be very close to pre-pandemic levels this holiday, and we are staffed and prepared for the holiday travelers.’
The administration has already screened more than 6.5 million people at its airport gates nationwide between Friday and Sunday, with another two million passing through the gates on Monday.
AAA also predicts 53.4 million people will travel for the holiday this year – up 13 percent from 2020. Of those, it says, 48.3 million will drive and 4.2 million will fly.
The increase in travelers is driving the cost of travel-related expenses up throughout the country, with travel site Kayak reports the average cost of rental cars are up 75 percent from 2019 and Hopper reporting that ticket prices surged $48 from last year.
NEW YORK: Passengers were seen coming and going from LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday as the holiday season ramps up
NEW YORK: Passengers waited for their flights from Terminal 4 of JFK Airport on Tuesday as millions are expected to fly
NEW YORK: Passengers waited for their luggage as many traveled to see their loved ones for Thanksgiving
ATLNTA, GEORGIA: The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, seen here on Tuesday, is expected to be the busiest of the nation’s airports, with 154,000 people departing from the hub on Wednesday
NEW YORK: Thousands of people waited online at the TSA checkpoint at LaGuardia Airport. The TSA expects to screen 20 million passengers through next Sunday
NEW YORK: The TSA line wrapped around itself at LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday
NEW YORK: AAA also predicts 4.2 million people will take to the skies to see their loved ones this holiday
Wednesday is expected to be the busiest day for travel, as people throughout the country race to visit loved ones, with the TSA expecting that 80 percent more travelers will go through airports this year compared to last, as concerns about COVID-19 have been tampered by the widespread vaccines.
International travel limitations have also been lifted, and airline officials are recommending that passengers arrive at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights.
TSA officials say they are prepared for the surge with ‘reduced physical contact,’ despite officials announcing on Monday that it has 4,200 fewer staff to deal with the increased traffic because 7 percent of employees have not yet complied with President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate and face termination.
NEW YORK: A woman was seen traveling with three suitcases at JFK Airport’s Terminal 4
ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Travelers waited for their luggage to arrive in baggage claim at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Tuesday
MIAMI, FLORIDA: Holiday travelers pushed their luggage inside Miami International Airport on Tuesday, with their daughter enjoying the ride along
NEW YORK: More people are expected to fly this year as international travel restrictions have been lifted
NEW YORK: The scene at LaGuardia Airport was chaotic on Tuesday with many rushing to get to their flights
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA: Travelers were seen arriving at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Tuesday
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA: A woman walked through Terminal A at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
NEW YORK: TSA officials say they are prepared for the surge with ‘reduced physical contact’ and airlines were increasing staff
NEW YORK: The cost of airline tickets has surged with the increased demand to travel
Airlines are putting on more staff to deal with the Thanksgiving surge with many offering overtime or bonuses for employees who work the holiday, and TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein tweeted on Monday morning that the vaccine mandate would not affect airline travel.
She wrote: ‘Approximately 93 percent of @TSA employees are in compliance with today’s deadline for the federal employee vaccine mandate and exemption requirements. The employee vaccine mandate will not impact holiday travel. Happy Thanksgiving!’
‘Well, TSA says that it’s going to be prepared, so we have to take them at their word’, AAA Senior Manager of Public Affairs Robert Sinclair Jr. told CBS New York.
‘Many airlines pay overtime or bonuses for employees to work during Thanksgiving’.
NEW YORK: People traveled through the departures section of JFK Airport to catch their flights out of the city
NEW YORK: TSA officials announced on Monday that 7 percent of its staff have received the COVID vaccine, in accordance with President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate
NEW YORK: TSA officials say the 7 percent loss of employees who are not fully-vaccinated will not affect holiday travel
NEW YORK: More people are expected to travel this year due to more relaxed COVID restrictions
NEW YORK: The TSA expects the amount of travelers over the weekend to reach pre-pandemic levels
NEW YORK: A girl was seen waiting at LaGuardia Airport as she watched over three suitcases and a backpack
TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein tweeted on Monday morning that the vaccine mandate would not affect airline travel
Delta Airlines and United Airlines now say they expect to fly about 12 percent fewer passengers than they did in 2019, the New York Times reports, but United officials said they expect Sunday to be the airline’s busiest day since the pandemic began.
Hopper, an app that predicts flight prices, also said that the average domestic flight during Thanksgiving was on track to be about $293 round trip – $48 more than last year.
It said Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport will be the busiest of the nation’s airports, with 154,000 people departing from the hub on Wednesday. Dallas Fort-Worth and Los Angeles International Airport came in its ranking for second and third busiest airports.
Meanwhile, Kayak reports that the average cost of rental cars are up 75 percent from 2019, and 66 percent from 2020. The most expensive markets, it said, are New York City – at $135 on average per day – and Charleston, South Carolina – at $123 on average per day, according to ABC 7.
And while forecasters have been predicting some storms to interfere with holiday travel, with AccuWeather meteorologists cautioning that those traveling around the Great Lakes could face reduced visibility due to near zero during heavy lake-effect snow bands and gusty winds, they now say the weather is not expected to cause any major disruptions.
‘Overall, the news is pretty good in terms of the weather in general across the country cooperating with travel,” Jon Porter, the chief meteorologist for AccuWeather, told the Times. ‘We’re not dealing with any big storms across the country, and in many places the weather will be quite favorable for travel.’
NEW YORK: Long lines were already growing at TSA checkpoints at LaGuardia on Tuesday
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI: Travelers waited at a very crowded Lambert International Airport for their flights on Tuesday
NEW YORK: Airline officials have said they increased their staff for the weekend to meet the pent-up demand
NEW YORK: A woman was exhausted after her flight into LaGuardia on Tuesday morning
Forecasters warned that those traveling around the Great Lakes could face reduced visibility, but Jon Porter, the chief meteorologist for AccuWeather, told the New York Times the weather will be favorable for travel conditions in much of the United States
Driving may be more of an issue, with AAA predicting nearly 4 million more people will hit the road this year than last year.
‘There are a couple of really big driving holidays… Thanksgiving is one of them,’ Bob Pishue, an analyst with transportation analytics company INRIX told USA Today.
He said travel ‘won’t be as bad as it was in 2019, but the roads are definitely more congested than they were last year.’
INRIX found that nationwide traffic delays are expected to be about 40 percent higher than normal over Thanksgiving. The busiest cities will include Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.
Pishue is now recommending that people who are driving for the holidays take off after 9pm on Wednesday or before 11am on Thursday.
And to come home, he said, the best time to leave would be before noon on Saturday and Sunday.
‘Leaving in the morning is definitely the best bet,’ he said. ‘Even on a normal day, midday and afternoon traffic is pretty heavy in a lot of places just as bad now as it was pre-COVID.
Washington D.C. is expected to see some of the most traffic this Thanksgiving weekend
New York will also see increased traffic, according to a report from transportation analytics company INRIX
ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Travelers were seen departing the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
NEW YORK: Traffic was already starting to heat up on the Grand Central Parkway near LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday
NEW YORK: The National Traffic Safety Administration warned that drivers have been making more ‘risky decisions’ since the pandemic began – and that is only likely to get worse during the holiday season
Bob Pishue, an analyst with INRIX recommends leaving after 9pm on Wednesday or before 11am on Thursday
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also warns that drivers have been making more ‘risky decisions’ since the pandemic began, including driving while intoxicated or without a seatbelt.
It estimates than 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of the year, up 18 percent from the same time in 2020. That is the largest number of projected fatalities for that time frame since 2006.
These problems are only expected to worsen during the holiday season.
The NHTSA found that there was an uptick in impaired drivers during the holiday season, with nearly 800 people dying in crashes involving a drunk driver over Thanksgiving weekend from 2015 to 2019.
‘If we thought it was going to be a problem before COVID, it’s definitely a problem now,’ Pishue told USA Today. ‘We hope to see fewer fatalities and road accidents and collisions, but with how things have been going during COVID, it’s definitely a concern.’