Thanksgiving travel: What to know about flights, driving and weather.

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Perfectly roasted turkey, grandma’s stuffing, and travel chaos: Crowded airports and expensive flights have become an annual Thanksgiving tradition, and this year is no exception.

With many families reuniting for the first time since the pandemic began, nearly 55 million Americans are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home for the holiday this year, according to AAA. About 4.5 million people plan to fly, an increase of about 8 percent from 2021.

This Thanksgiving is “the biggest air travel season since the start of Covid,” said Peer Buller, chief financial officer at travel booking website Kayak.

“We’re really close to pre-pandemic levels,” especially for international travel, Buller said.

After this year’s summer travel chaos, many travelers are worried that staffing issues and extreme weather could derail their plans. Here’s what to know before a busy travel week.

Busiest days at airports

Airlines sold about 25 million seats departing from US airports Sunday through Sunday before Thanksgiving, 6 percent more capacity than in 2019, said Haley Berg, chief economist at travel booking app Hopper.

According to Berg, the biggest surge of passengers arrives at the airports on Wednesday and Sunday, especially in the morning. Airports in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver are expected to be the nation’s busiest throughout the week, with morning congestion peaking. Las Vegas, Phoenix and New York’s John F. Kennedy Airports are also the busiest, but see their biggest rush in the evenings, Berg said.

Your guide to getting out of airport chaos

If you’re traveling during one of those peak times, expect long lines at security and have backup options in case your plans fall through, Berg says. “If you’re really worried, most airlines offer $0 changes to change your flight to the day before or the day before,” she says.

The Transportation Security Administration will be “fully staffed” for the holiday season, when 20 million travelers will pass through checkpoints between Nov. 18 and Nov. 27, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

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Farbstein recommends that travelers arrive at the airport two hours early for a domestic flight and “pack that all-important patience.” If you’re traveling with Thanksgiving foods, be sure to put them in the right bag: Solid foods like pie can go in the carry-on, but liquids like wine and gravy must be checked.

“If you can spill, spread, spray, pump or pour it, please pack it in a checked bag,” Farbstein said in an email.

According to the TSA, holiday foods you can and cannot bring in a carry-on

Thanksgiving is a busy day

Travelers looking to avoid busy airports can choose to hit the road, but expect significant congestion there as well.

Traffic is expected to peak Wednesday afternoon, especially in major metropolitan areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, according to INRIX, a transportation analysis firm.

If you need to travel on Wednesday, leave around 8am or after 8pm on Thanksgiving Day, try to drive around 11am or after 6pm when traffic is lightest, according to INRIX. For the return journey, do not drive between 4 and 8 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Gas prices fell 11 cents in the past week to a national average of $3.66 a gallon as of Monday, according to AAA. It was the most expensive Thanksgiving for gas prices since AAA began tracking rates in 2000, even with summer peaks below $5.

Drivers in the Mid-Atlantic region can find some relief at the gas station chain Sheetz, which slashed its unleaded 88 fuel to $1.99 a gallon for the week of Thanksgiving. Navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps now include gas prices along your route, and Google Maps offers an eco-friendly routing option to find the most fuel-efficient route to your destination.

Best Times to Drive for Thanksgiving

Expect outages, but not much during the summer

Travelers dealing with delays, cancellations, lost bags and other travel disruptions this summer can expect some relief around Thanksgiving, according to experts.

Buehler said outages are “much less significant” during Thanksgiving than during the summer, when factors such as staffing and weather “blindside” the industry.

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“Thanksgiving is a well-timed, well-defined travel season, and airlines can prepare for it better than this summer,” he said.

Your canceled-flight emergency kit

Airlines say they are hiring aggressively to combat staff shortages and adjust schedules to improve reliability. Major US carriers completed 99.3 percent of flights in September and October, with 83 percent arriving on time, excluding those affected by Hurricane Ian, according to the trade group Airlines for America.

Berg said airlines are being “very conservative” with the remainder of 2022’s schedule to avoid overstretching their planes and crews, which would allow them to fly the routes they had planned.

“We only see run-of-the-mill disruption, so think about delayed tropical storms, blizzards, snow, ice — more general weather-based and every now and then some equipment-based delay,” Berg said. Hopper predicts Newark, Dallas Love Field and Miami as the worst airports for delays.

Disruption is a big deal for most air travelers, and Berg says one in five customers are opting to purchase Hopper’s Flight Disruption Guarantee, which allows free rebooking instantly in the event of a flight disruption.

Storms can slow your return journey

In another relief for travelers, the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang reports that weather will be dry and mild across much of the country on Wednesday, the busiest travel day.

The return trip could be trickier. A storm system could bring rain and snow to the Northeast between Friday and the weekend, but meteorologists aren’t sure of its intensity, so keep an eye on the forecast.

The South and Tennessee Valley will see warm temperatures with some scattered showers through the weekend. A chance of rain in Texas for most of Friday.

The Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, meanwhile, are likely to be mostly dry and clear. The west should be mild and dry, with a chance of some rain in the Pacific Northwest.

Traveling? Here’s your local Thanksgiving forecast.

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Last minute deals on flights and hotels

The average Thanksgiving airfare is about $380 round trip As of Thursday, the price will increase to $15 or more per day until the holiday, according to Berg.

“If you haven’t booked your Thanksgiving travel, you need to book today — now — prices will only go up from here,” Berg said.

The prices of holiday travels are increasing drastically. Here’s how to save money.

A few deals remain, but if you’re looking for a last-minute getaway, flights to Atlanta average $100 and warm-weather destinations like Cancun, Mexico and Puerto Rico around $400, she said. According to Kayak, travelers can score cheap last-minute flights to Las Vegas and Nashville, where prices are $321 and $345, respectively.

On the hotel side, travelers can benefit from waiting to book until the day they arrive, when hotels cut their rates by up to 25 percent for last-minute bookings, Berg noted. These deals are usually found in major cities with large hotel inventories, except for vacation destinations like New York (due to the Thanksgiving parade) and Miami.

“Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver — any city that has a lot of hotel options, you’re going to see last-minute deals,” Berg said.

It will be cheaper to fly early next year

Your money will go further if you sit on Holiday Travel and book a trip in early 2023.

Hopper, along with 75 airline and hotel partners, will host its annual Travel Deal Tuesday sale on Nov. 29, which the company says sees 50 percent more deals than an average day. On that day, average domestic airfares will be $50 cheaper and international flights will be $160 off, and Hopper will add additional promotional discounts, Berg said.

Travelers staying at home for the holidays should consider booking their travel in mid-January, when domestic flights are 28 percent cheaper and international flights are 25 percent cheaper, according to Kayak.

“Those are the most significant step downs to wait,” Buller said.

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