As travelers pack up their bags and get ready for Thanksgiving week, one thing is certain: They will not be alone. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) estimates that more than 25 million travelers will be screened at airport checkpoints between Friday, November 16, and Monday, November 26, a nearly 7 percent increase compared to last year.
And according to AAA, the 2018 Thanksgiving weekend will see the holiday period’s highest travel volume since 2005, with 54.3 million Americans expected to travel 50 miles or more.
Know When to Go
While the day before Thanksgiving has traditionally been one of the busiest travel days of the year, TSA reported that it has started to see more people kick off their travels the Friday before Thanksgiving, with most passengers choosing to return home on either the Sunday or Monday after Thanksgiving. The busiest travel days will still be the Tuesday and Wednesday just prior to Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving—that Sunday is actually projected to break into TSA’s top 10 busiest days ever.
As for driving, AAA reports that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be the worst day for drivers in San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles; the Tuesday before will be the worst day for heading out of New York, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle, and Boston; and Monday will be the worst pre-Thanksgiving traffic day for those in Houston.
Not Too Late to Book
Although most travelers have already booked their flights for Thanksgiving, procrastinators may still find decent airfares. AAA reported that the average ticket price for Thanksgiving flights booked between now and November 15 is $459, compared to the average ticket price of $478 for flights that have already been booked for Thanksgiving travel. Of course, last-minute availability will be limited, so those looking to score a decent deal may even want to consider flying on Thanksgiving proper, when prices and crowds are lowest.
Avoid (or Embrace) the Crowds
Warm weather destinations and theme parks are clearly where the masses will be heading this Thanksgiving, according to AAA’s list of top 10 Thanksgiving destinations. Whether you want to join them or avoid them, here’s the full list.
Orlando, Florida New York City Anaheim, California Punta Cana, Dominican Republic Las Vegas, Nevada Cancun, Mexico Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas Honolulu, Hawaii Washington, D.C. Miami, Florida
TSA Screening 101
Yes, we all know this, but consider this your official holiday travel season reminder (repeat after us): For carry-on luggage, liquids, gels, aerosols, creams, and pastes must be 3.4 ounces or less, and all bottles must fit into a single quart-size plastic bag to be placed in a bin for screening. Larger liquids, gels, creams, and aerosols should be placed into checked bags. Let a TSA officer know if you’re traveling with larger quantities of liquid medications, breast milk, or formula, as those need to be screened separately.
When in Doubt, Remove Powders
If you are carrying powdered substances, it is recommended (but not mandatory) to remove them from your carry-on bag and place them in a bin. That’s because many powdered substances will trigger the screening system and result in an additional bag check. Removing the powdered items is likely to get you through more quickly.
Less Is Best
Sure, temperatures are starting to drop around the country and you may also want to look your holiday finest, but TSA recommends minimizing the items that you wear to the airport such as bulky jewelry, scarves, hair accessories, large belts, and other chunky items and accessories that could require additional screening.
Check the Bins
Another seemingly obvious one, but when the airport is crowded and travelers are in a rush, it’s particularly important to just quickly double-check the bins after collecting your belongings in the screening area and before running off to the gate. It’s not uncommon for travelers to leave behind a number of things, including laptops, wallets, IDs, and phones, TSA reported.
Get TSA PreCheck
If you don’t already have TSA PreCheck, it’s a bit late to get it in time for the Thanksgiving holiday since the process can take several weeks. But the crowds can serve as a good reminder of the benefits of enrolling—and perhaps you will still get it in time for the busy end-of-year holiday season. Once enrolled, you’ll have access to expedited screening lanes at more than 180 U.S. airports. Added bonus: You won’t need to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, or jackets when going through security.
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Michelle Baran Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.