Thanksgiving holiday travel expected to reach near pre-pandemic levels

Travelers can expect to see bigger crowds at airports this Thanksgiving holiday than last year, with officials anticipating passenger volume to reach close to pre-pandemic levels.

The Transportation Security Administration says it expects to screen about 20 million passengers during the Thanksgiving holiday period, which runs from Friday, Nov. 19, through Sunday, Nov. 28.

“We anticipate that travel may be very close to pre-pandemic levels this holiday, and we are staffed and prepared for the holiday travelers,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said. “We have deployed technologies that enhance detection capabilities and reduce physical contact, and it’s equally important that passengers are prepared with travel tips for the most efficient checkpoint experience.”

Typically, the busiest days during the Thanksgiving travel period are the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day, and the Sunday after it. 

The highest travel day in TSA’s history was the Sunday after Thanksgiving of 2019, when nearly 2.9 million individuals were screened at TSA security checkpoints around the country.

Travel volume already appears to be higher this week than during the same time last year.

On Wednesday, TSA screened more than 1.6 million passengers — a much higher number than the 703,135 screened on Nov. 17 last year, according to data from the agency.

At LAX, up to 2 million travelers are expected to pass through the airport during the two-week Thanksgiving holiday period, airport officials said.

“Customs and Border Protection, they are staffed up and ready for the influx of international travelers that we’re expecting.” LAX Public Relations Director Heath Montgomery told KTLA. “We had those international travel restrictions lift on November 8, so we are seeing more international visitors, as well as the domestic travel.”

LAX travelers were advised to pre-book their parking spots.

“With overall vaccination rates improving nationwide and greater confidence in healthy travel, there will be more people traveling so plan ahead, remain vigilant and practice kindness,” Pekoske said.

Officials advised travelers to arrive early and allow time to park their cars, return rental cars, check their bags and get the boarding passes.

“I recommend that travelers pay attention to the guidance that the TSA officers are providing at the checkpoint,” Pekoske said. “They may be directing you to a shorter line or guiding you around someone who is moving slowly. And they may be giving you some advice that will lessen the likelihood that you’ll need a pat-down.”

Traveling by car

Southern Californians will be paying the highest gas prices ever for this time of year, but that’s not stopping them.

Most Southland residents will travel by automobile this Thanksgiving, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The Automobile Club of Southern California projects that 4.4 million Southern Californians will take long trips during the Thanksgiving holiday period this year — a 16 % increase from last year’s holiday.

About 3.8 million of them will take a road trip, 494,000 will fly and another 79,000 will take another mode of transportation like a train, bus or cruise.

“This is a remarkable comeback for travel,” Auto Club spokesman Doug Shupe said in a video statement.

Wednesday, Nov. 24 in the afternoon and evening will be the busiest time for Southland freeways.

All outbound freeways are likely to be congested on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons before Thanksgiving.

But Interstate 5 South from Colorado Street to Florence Avenue is expected to be the busiest local freeway segment for drivers. Traffic is projected to be 385% over normal levels on the afternoon and evening.

Nationally, Anaheim is expected to be the second-most popular destination for Thanksgiving travelers after Orlando, Florida, AAA said.

For Southern Californians, the top five destinations are San Diego, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Santa Barbara.

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