Thanksgiving flyers crowd airports, with busy travel days ahead as people return home

Despite fewer Thanksgiving travelers than years prior, Wednesday was the busiest flying day since the pandemic started despite COVID-19 case numbers and death tolls rising – and flyer numbers could increase as Thanksgiving festivities finish and travelers head back home, leftovers in tow.

Historically, the days following Thanksgiving can be even busier than the days leading up to the holiday, meaning a rise in travelers is expected in the coming days. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration reported 2.8 million travelers passed through TSA security checkpoints nationwide on Dec. 1, the Sunday following the holiday. It marked the busiest day of the 2019 Thanksgiving season and set a record for the busiest day in the TSA’s 18-year history.

This year, the TSA screened 1,070,967 travelers the Wednesday ahead of Thanksgiving, with numbers just over a million on the Friday and Sunday before the holiday. 

AAA predicts that travelers in major urban areas will experience increased driving delays at popular bottlenecks, too, “up to 30% above normal pandemic congestion levels.”

One of these post-holiday bottlenecks is listed in the Washington, D.C. region, around Interstate 95 starting at 11:45 a.m. Friday.

For the millions of Americans who already traveled for Thanksgiving – though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against it – trying to stay safe before they hunkered down with their families was front of mind.

Lily Roberts, 19, said she got tested for COVID-19 at San Francisco International Airport before driving home to Marin County in Northern California.

“I’m not worried about it because I’m not at risk,” Roberts said. “However, I do follow the rules and the precautions because of my parents. That’s why I’m getting tested because I do not want to bring it into my home.”

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