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Planes and highways are expected to have more people on Thanksgiving than last year, but changing work and play habits could disperse crowds and reduce the usual amount of stress associated with vacation travel.

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Travel experts say the pandemic and the ability for many people to work remotely have blurred the lines between business and leisure travel. They think a lot of people will go on vacation earlier or come home later than usual because they’ll spend a few days working remotely — or at least tell the boss they’re working remotely.

The busiest days during the week of Thanksgiving are usually the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday after the holiday. This year, the Federal Aviation Administration expects Tuesday to be its busiest day of travel, with about 48,000 scheduled flights.

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The hype appears to have started earlier this year as the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2.33 million travelers on Sunday. This is the first year that the number of people boarding planes has surpassed the 2.32 million people shown on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2019, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“People travel on different days. Not everyone is traveling that Wednesday night,” says Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of the Airlines for America trade group. “People are spreading out their trips throughout the week, which I think will also help ensure a smoother experience.”

James Daly of Mission Viejo, Calif., boarded a plane to Oakland on Monday with his wife and two young children, taking advantage of the fact that airfare was cheaper that way. Daley, a teacher who was out for a week, said they also took advantage of his wife’s opportunity to work remotely.

A couple walks through a crowded airport

“The economy is a bit of a worry, but that’s life,” said Daly, who was traveling to see his parents and extended family flying in from Ireland. “Everything returns to normal after COVID… So, you want to be part of that joy and part of that relationship.”

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AAA predicts that 54.6 million people will drive at least 50 miles from home in the US this week, up 1.5% from last year and just 2% down from 2019. travel by car, and 4.5 million fly between Wednesday and Sunday.

American airlines have struggled to keep up as passenger numbers have skyrocketed this year.

Christmas tree at the airport

“We really had a challenging summer,” said Pinkerton, whose group speaks for members including American, United and Delta. She said airlines have cut their schedules and hired thousands of workers – now they have more pilots than before the pandemic. “As a result, we are confident that the week will go well.”

Ticker Safety Last Change Change %
AAL AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC. 14.42 +0.44 +3.15%
UAL UNITED AIRLINES HOLDINGS INC. 43.69 +0.26 +0.60%
DAL DELTA AIR LINES INC. 34.49 +0.26 +0.76%

U.S. airlines plan to operate 13% fewer flights this week than during Thanksgiving week 2019. However, according to research firm Cirium, the use of larger aircraft on average will reduce the number of seats by only 2%.

Airlines continue to blame flight disruptions on a lack of air traffic controllers, especially in Florida, which is a major holiday destination.

jetBlue self check-in machines

Air traffic controllers working for the Federal Aviation Administration “are tested during the holidays. That’s when we seem to be in trouble,” Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle said a few days ago. “The FAA is adding another 10% to the headcount, hopefully that’s enough.”

Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg disputed such claims, saying the vast majority of flight delays and cancellations are caused by the airlines themselves.

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The TSA expects airports to be busier than last year and likely to be around 2019 levels. The busiest day in TSA history came the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, when almost 2.9 million people were screened at airport security checkpoints.

Baggage check-in at Logan International

“There’s a lot more hustle and bustle here,” says Corliss King, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines in Chicago. “We are on high alert for unruly behavior,” airlines have filed 8,000 passenger violation reports in the past two years, “but I hope people will be patient and this will lead to less stressful holiday travel.”

People getting behind the wheel or boarding a plane don’t seem to be bothered by higher gas and airfare prices than last year, or widespread concerns about inflation and the economy. This is already leading to strong travel forecasts for Christmas and New Year.

“This unmet travel demand is still there. It doesn’t look like he’s leaving,” says Tom Hall, vice president and longtime writer for Lonely Planet, a travel guide publisher. “It keeps planes full, it keeps prices high.”

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Associated Press staff writer Alexandra Olson of New York and AP video journalist Terence Chee of Oakland, California, contributed to this report.