Ga., S.C. soaring past pre-COVID levels for Thanksgiving travel

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 2:55 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - The Thanksgiving travel rush is back on this year, and it’s expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels in Georgia and South Carolina.

AAA predicts 54.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving.

Among those will be 850,440 South Carolinians and more than 1.6 million Georgians.

That’s 100,000 more South Carolina residents than in 2019. And for Georgia, it’s the most since 2005 and 26,000 more than last year.

Despite higher gas prices than a year ago, 89% of all Thanksgiving travelers will drive.

In Georgia, 1.5 million will take a road trip, an increase of 14,000 people from last year. Meanwhile, 114,307 Georgians are expected to fly and 26,694 are expected to take some other form of transportation.

In South Carolina, 739,000 travelers are expected to drive, while 95,940 will fly and 33,600 are expected to use another means of travel.

“Higher gas prices don’t seem to be enough to stop people from traveling to be with family and friends,” said Montrae Waiters, Georgia spokeswoman for AAA. “We’ve found that when gas prices are high, travelers look to offset the added cost by spending less on a hotel, shopping or dining out.”

The busiest travel times are expected to be Nov. 23 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

If you’re flying, AAA says you should check-in early online, monitor your flight status using your air carrier’s mobile app, arrive two to three hours before departure, and pack medications and an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag.

The national outlook

Nationally, the travel numbers mark a 1.5% increase over 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes.

This year is projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000.

Changing habits around work and play, however, might spread out the crowds and reduce the usual amount of holiday travel stress. Experts say many people will start holiday trips early or return home later than normal because they will spend a few days working remotely — or at least tell the boss they’re working remotely.

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

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

U.S. airlines struggled to keep up as the number of passengers surged this year.

“We did have a challenging summer,” said Pinkerton, whose group speaks for members including American, United and Delta. She said airlines have pared their schedules and hired thousands of workers — they now have more pilots than before the pandemic. “As a result, we’re confident that the week is going to go well.”

U.S. airlines plan to operate 13% fewer flights this week than during Thanksgiving week in 2019. However, by using larger planes on average, the number of seats will drop only 2%, according to data from travel-researcher Cirium.

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

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says the vast majority of delays and cancellations are caused by the airlines themselves.

TSA expects airports to be busier than last year and probably about on par with 2019. The busiest day in TSA’s history came on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, when nearly 2.9 million people were screened at airport checkpoints.