Thanksgiving getaway starts with 49 million people hitting the roads, 4.5 million at airports

Planes, trains and automobiles: Thanksgiving getaway starts in earnest with 49 million people to hit the roads, 4.5 million at airports and 1.4 million on trains and buses on the busiest travel day of the year

  • More than 55 million people will be traveling home for Thanksgiving in what is estimated to be the third-busiest travel period on record and nearly on par with pre-pandemic travel
  • An estimated 49 million people will hit the roads, with 4.5 million traveling through airports and another 1.4 million estimated to travel via trains and buses 
  • Thanksgiving Eve on Wednesday tends to be the busiest day for travel in the week 
  • Among the most congested airports on Wednesday were Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and New York City’s JFK International airport 
  • Experts expect severe road congestion around major cities, with traffic delays as much as double what’s normal, and the highways around Atlanta, Chicago , New York City, and Los Angeles seeing the worst impact 

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This year, more than 55 million people will be traveling home for Thanksgiving via planes, trains and automobiles in what is estimated to be the third-busiest travel period on record. 

An estimated 49 million people will hit the roads, with 4.5 million traveling through airports and another 1.4 million estimated to travel via trains and buses, according to AAA. It’s a 1.5 percent bump over last year’s holiday travel and only 2 percent less than pre-pandemic travel records.  

The busiest travel days during Thanksgiving week are usually Tuesday, Wednesday and the Sunday after the holiday, with airports, roads and train terminals all experiencing increased congestion. Thanksgiving Eve on Wednesday tends to be the busiest day for travel.

Experts expect severe road congestion around major cities, with traffic delays as much as double normal, and the highways around Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles seeing the worst impact. 

Throwing a wrench in this year’s travel plans is approaching storms affecting airports in the West and South just a week after some parts of the US were hit with strong snow storms.

A storm formed over the Northwest on Tuesday, and as the holiday approaches, it is expected to move West, drenching the Great Plains by Thanksgiving and threatening to bring winter weather across New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle Thursday into Friday, according to Accuweather. 

As of Wednesday morning, about 812 flights to, from and within the US have been delayed, with 30 flights canceled so far, according to FlightAware.  

QUEENS, NY: One way traffic on the Belt Parkway in Queens on November 23 as people travel for Thanksgiving on what is expected to be the busiest day on the roads as travel returns to pre-pandemic levels

QUEENS, NY: One way traffic on the Belt Parkway in Queens on November 23 as people travel for Thanksgiving on what is expected to be the busiest day on the roads as travel returns to pre-pandemic levels 

O'HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Travelers wait at the security check point as an estimated 4.5 million people are expected to travel by air for the holiday, with Chicago, Atlanta and New York forecasted to be among the busiest hubs

O’HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Travelers wait at the security check point as an estimated 4.5 million people are expected to travel by air for the holiday, with Chicago, Atlanta and New York forecasted to be among the busiest hubs   

O'HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: A passenger is seen sleeping as she waits for her flight out of Chicago

O’HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: A passenger is seen sleeping as she waits for her flight out of Chicago

JFK AIRPORT, NYC: The early start proved too much for some who snuck in a nap while waiting for their flights

JFK AIRPORT, NYC: The early start proved too much for some who snuck in a nap while waiting for their flights

JFK AIRPORT, NYC: The early start proved too much for some who snuck in a nap while waiting for their flights 

JFK AIRPORT, NYC: Long lines are already forming on Wednesday morning at the New York airport. Thanksgiving Eve on Wednesday tends to be the busiest day for travel

JFK AIRPORT, NYC: Long lines are already forming on Wednesday morning at the New York airport. Thanksgiving Eve on Wednesday tends to be the busiest day for travel

PENNSYLVANIA STATION, NYC: While the airports see their own congestion, the volume of travelers at Penn Station is expected to rise as an estimate 1.4 million people will take the trains and buses home this Thanksgiving

PENNSYLVANIA STATION, NYC: While the airports see their own congestion, the volume of travelers at Penn Station is expected to rise as an estimate 1.4 million people will take the trains and buses home this Thanksgiving 

BROOKLYN, NY: Along with New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles will be seeing the worst impact on road congestion this week as traffic is predicted to more than double

BROOKLYN, NY: Along with New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles will be seeing the worst impact on road congestion this week as traffic is predicted to more than double

O'HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: On Wednesday morning, security checkpoints were already backed up at the air hub

O’HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: On Wednesday morning, security checkpoints were already backed up at the air hub

STUCK IN TRAFFIC? IT’S YOUR OWN FAULT, RESEARCHERS SAY

As millions of people travel the interstates this Thanksgiving, many will encounter patches of traffic at a standstill for no apparent reason – no construction or accident. Researchers say the problem is you.

Human drivers just don’t do a good job of navigating dense traffic conditions, but an experiment using artificial intelligence in Nashville last week means help could be on the way. In the experiment, specially equipped cars were able to ease rush hour congestion on Interstate-24, researcher Daniel Work said on Tuesday. In addition to lessening driver frustration, Work said less stop-and-go driving means fuel savings and, by extension, less pollution.

The professor of civil and environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University is one of a group of engineers and mathematicians from universities around the U.S. who have been studying the problem of phantom traffic jams after a simple experiment in Japan a dozen years ago showed how they develop. Researchers there put about 20 human drivers on a circular track and asked them to drive at a constant speed. Before long, traffic went from a smooth flow to a series of stops and starts.

‘Phantom traffic jams are created by drivers like you and me,’ Work explained.

One person taps the brakes for whatever reason. The person behind them takes a second to respond and has to brake even harder. The next person has to brake even harder. The wave of braking continues until many cars are at a standstill. Then, as traffic clears, the drivers accelerate too quickly, causing more braking and yet another jam.

‘We know that one car braking suddenly can have a huge impact,’ Work said.  

Last week’s experiment showed that a few cars driving slowly and steadily could have an impact as well, for the better.

The experiment utilized 100 cars that travelled in loops on a 15-mile section of I-24 from about 6 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. each morning. Working on the premise that if 5% of the cars on the road were acting together, they could lessen the prevalence of phantom traffic jams, the researchers equipped those 100 cars to communicate wirelessly, sending traffic information back and forth.

They also took advantage of the adaptive cruise control that is already an option on many new vehicles. This technology lets the driver set a car to cruise at a certain speed, but the car automatically slows down and speeds up as needed to keep a safe distance from the car in front. In the experiment, the adaptive cruise control was modified to react to the overall traffic flow – including what was happening far ahead – using artificial intelligence.

The cars´ decision-making occurred on two levels, Work said. At the cloud level, information about traffic conditions was used to create an overall speed plan. That plan was then broadcast to the cars, which used artificial intelligence algorithms to determine the best action to take. The researchers were able to evaluate the effect the connected cars had on morning traffic flow using a special 4-mile stretch of I-24 outfitted with 300 pole-mounted sensors.

The experiment is a project of the CIRCLES consortium, a group that includes several automakers and the U.S. Energy and Transportation departments. Other lead researchers are based at the University of California, Berkeley; Temple University; and Rutgers University-Camden.

Liam Pedersen is deputy general manager for research at Nissan, a CIRCLES consortium partner who was in Nashville last week for the experiment. He said one of the exciting things about it is that it builds on technology that is already in many new cars.

‘This is not autonomous driving,’ he said. ‘This is something we could realize very soon.’

Asked if automakers will be willing to cooperate to ease traffic, Pedersen said, ‘I certainly hope so, because the system works best when lots and lots of cars participate.’

Last week’s experiment built off one Work and his colleagues conducted in 2017 at the University of Arizona. That repeated the Japanese experiment, this time with a single self-driving car thrown into the mix. The self-driving car smoothed the flow of traffic so that there was 98% less braking. That led to a 40% increase in fuel efficiency and a 14% increase in distance driven.

Researchers are still crunching the numbers on last week’s experiment, but Work said it ‘demonstrated that these jams can be reduced through the novel automated vehicle technologies we developed. It´s unquestionable that enhanced automotive technology can significantly reduce phantom traffic jams when implemented at scale.’

Still, he cautioned that the technology is not going to suddenly eliminate congestion.

‘When there are more cars on the road than the road can support, there will always be traffic,’ he said. ‘But this can make that congestion less painful.’ 

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Here’s how forecasters say the weather could play out over the Thanksgiving travel period: 

  • Wednesday: Flurries and light snow will cross Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas, with the continued possibility of rain in Florida . Another storm is expected to move from the southern Plains and Mississippi Valley over to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast
  • Thanksgiving Day: A large storm system forms across the center of the country, stretching from Houston to Detroit. Most affected areas will see heavy rain, but snow is possible in parts of the Upper Midwest. 
  • Friday: Heavy rain will continue in Texas and push east, with a line of storms stretching from the Carolinas to New England. A new line of storms moves over the Pacific Northwest, hitting Portland and Seattle. 
  • Saturday: Skies clear for much of the country, but a new wave of Gulf moisture brings drenching rain over New Orleans and Mississippi, moving into the Ohio River Valley and Carolinas by nightfall. 
  • Sunday: Storms are possible over Denver, Chicago and New York City on one of the busiest travel days of the period. 

The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.6 million travelers on Monday, surpassing the 2.5 million screened the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2019. 

The same trend occurred Sunday, marking the first year that the number of people catching planes on Thanksgiving week surpassed pre-pandemic levels. 

U.S. airlines plan to operate 13 percent 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 percent, 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.

Stephanie Escutia, traveling with four children, her husband and her mother, said it took the family four hours to get through checking and security at the Orlando airport early Tuesday. 

The family was returning to Kansas City in time for Thanksgiving after a birthday trip to Disney World. 

‘We were surprised at how full the park was,’ said Escutia, 32. ‘We thought it might be down some but it was packed.’

She welcomed the sense of normalcy, and said her family would be gathering for Thanksgiving without worrying about keeping their distance this year. ‘Now we are back to normal and looking forward to a nice holiday,’ she said.

Controllers, who work for the Federal Aviation Administration, ‘get tested around the holidays. That seems to be when we have challenges,’ Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle said a few days ago. 

‘The FAA is adding another 10 percent to headcount, hopefully that’s enough.’

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has disputed such claims, saying that 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.

‘Anticipate long TSA lines. If possible, avoid checking a bag to allow for more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule,’ warned Mary Maguire, Vice President of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Northeast. 

United Airlines said last week it expects to carry 5.5 million passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period, up about 12 percent from 2021.

The carrier will operate more than 3,700 flights per day on average during the holiday period from November 18 to 30. United forecasts it will carry about as many passengers over the holiday as in the pre-pandemic period in 2019.

United also predicts November 27 – the Sunday after Thanksgiving – will be its busiest travel day since the onset of the pandemic, with more than 460,000 passengers.

Along with the storm moving West, the South – from Memphis to New Orleans – can expect heavy thunderstorms and reduced visibility. However, widespread flooding is not expected, Accuweather said. 

The Midwest and Northern Plains should expect intermittent rainfall throughout the holiday and Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and New Mexico could get snow as temperatures drop. 

Other places, like Buffalo, New York, that got six feet of snow after experiencing a lake effect storm last week, could have more dire weather as the storm passes through. 

If heavy rainfall hits the area, flooding could occur as the snow melts. 

‘There could be a serious concern for flooding,’ AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brian Wimer said. 

If the storm lingers into the weekend, major airline hubs in Chicago, Atlanta, and New York could all be affected on some of the busiest travel days of the year. 

JFK AIRPORT, QUEENS: A man uses his travel bag as a pillow at the corner of a wall to sleep before his flight takes off

JFK AIRPORT, QUEENS: A man uses his travel bag as a pillow at the corner of a wall to sleep before his flight takes off

NYC: A family rides the AirTrain to JFK Airport in Queens as dawn breaks over the city

NYC: A traveler skips the airport traffic and opt for the AirTrain to JFK as dawn breaks over New York City

NYC: We ride at dawn! Thanksgiving getaway travelers skip the airport traffic and opt for the AirTrain to JFK as dawn breaks over New York City 

O'HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Security check points were congested on Wednesday morning at the airport

O’HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Security check points were congested on Wednesday morning at the airport 

O'HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Passengers are dealing with long, winding lines on the busiest travel day of the year

O’HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Passengers are dealing with long, winding lines on the busiest travel day of the year

O'HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: American Airlines predicts that this year's travel week will be less hectic than previous years

O’HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: American Airlines predicts that this year’s travel week will be less hectic than previous years

O'HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: This year's travel is nearly on par with 2019, which was the busiest on record

O’HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: This year’s travel is nearly on par with 2019, which was the busiest on record 

O'HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Drop-off chaos at Chicago's O'Hare departures terminals as travelers get away for their Thanksgiving breaks

 O’HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Drop-off chaos at Chicago’s O’Hare departures terminals as travelers get away for their Thanksgiving breaks 

Airports have seen an increased number of passengers as the travel industry continues to rebound, leaving many with high ticket prices as the holiday season kicks off. 

The average roundtrip domestic flight cost travelers around $350 this year, up 22 percent compared to 2019 and 43 percent from last year, according to Forbes. International flights are up 25 percent compared to 2019, averaging just under $800. 

As Christmas moves closer, fliers can expect to dish out even more money, with domestic flights ranging above $450 and international running about $1,300, Forbes reported. 

Those traveling via car could be facing the highest gas prices ever for the Thanksgiving holiday travel season, as millions prepare to hit the road amid still sky high prices and inflation

The national average price for a gallon of gas is projected to hit $3.68 next Thursday, November 24 as Americans prepare for the feast. 

That number is 30 cents higher than the same time in 2021 and over 20 cents higher than the previous record of $3.44 per gallon in 2012.

MILWAUKEE MITCHELL AIRPORT, WISCONSIN: Passengers in the Midwest and Northwest could see their travel plans foiled by a storm system in the area that is moving westward

MILWAUKEE MITCHELL AIRPORT, WISCONSIN: Passengers in the Midwest and Northwest could see their travel plans foiled by a storm system in the area that is moving westward 

NEWARK AIRPORT, NEW JERSEY: Passengers waited for their flight out of New Jersey

NEWARK AIRPORT, NEW JERSEY: Passengers waited for their flight out of New Jersey

NEWARK AIRPORT, NEW JERSEY: The AAA warned, 'Regardless of the mode of transportation you have chosen, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination'

NEWARK AIRPORT, NEW JERSEY: The AAA warned, ‘Regardless of the mode of transportation you have chosen, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination’

THANKSGIVING MEAL SACRIFICES: INFLATION PUSHES TURKEY OFF THE MENU 

Sandra White normally has turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. But on Thursday, due to soaring inflation, she’s going to have fried chicken instead.

‘It’s too expensive, too expensive,’ the 70-year-old White, a resident of East Harlem, says of the traditional holiday bird.

She asked her guests to bring other parts of the meal.

It’s the same story for fellow shopper Yeisha Swan, but she got lucky: one of her loved ones bought the family fowl, and she was able to cut costs on the side dishes, which for many are just as important as the main course.

 ‘This is way less than what I would buy. I couldn’t get my ham…. I’m using canned collard greens. It’s different,’ Swan, 42, tells AFP outside a New York supermarket.

Inflation is red-hot in the United States, reaching the highest levels in decades this year. And while some prices have eased in recent months, consumers say they are straining to handle their grocery bills — a tough blow at the holidays.

 

Compounding that problem is a bird flu outbreak that forced the culling of about 50 million poultry, including eight million turkeys, according to calculations based on US Department of Agriculture data.

Turkey costs 21 percent more in the United States than it did last year, according to the American Farm Bureau.

The turkey is not the only component of a classic Thanksgiving meal that is more pricey. A Farm Bureau survey showed that cubed stuffing mix was 69 percent more expensive as compared with last year.

The only must-have with a price drop? Cranberries.

An average meal for 10 this year – including turkey, stuffing, peas, sweet potatoes, cranberries, carrots, rolls and pumpkin pie – will cost $64.05, or 20 percent more than in 2021, the Farm Bureau said.

‘I just had to really cut back…. We used to have a party and we couldn’t do that for Thanksgiving,’ says chef Jose Rodriguez. Instead of an open house for all of his loved ones, he will eat with his wife and their two dogs.

Although turkey prices have jumped, demand has not completely collapsed.

At Wendel’s Poultry Farm near Buffalo, New York — which emerged unscathed from the bird flu crisis — all 1,100 Thanksgiving turkeys were sold out. Customers can already place an order for a Christmas bird.

In order to make up for increasing costs of raw materials, Wendel’s hiked its prices by 22 percent, explains manager Cami Wendel.

Retail giant Walmart went in the opposite direction, offering its Thanksgiving basket, including a turkey, for the same price as last year. Its low prices have allowed it to make inroads in the grocery market since inflation took off. 

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AAA says another 1.43 million Americans plan to use other modes of travel, like buses and trains, a sizeable 23 percent increase from last year.

‘Regardless of the mode of transportation you have chosen, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination. If your schedule is flexible, consider off-peak travel times during the holiday rush,’ said Maguire. 

Despite the expected congestion and near record travel numbers, Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president at the trade group Airlines for America, said that traveling this year would not be as painful as previous years. 

‘People are spreading their travel out throughout the week, which I also think will help ensure smoother operations,’ she said. 

She added that airports have learned from the challenges over the summer, which saw thousands of flights canceled or delayed during holidays. 

‘We did have a challenging summer,’ said Pinkerton, ‘As a result, we’re confident that the week is going to go well.’ 

As Thanksgiving week kicked off, parts of upstate New York were digging out from a potentially record-breaking snowfall over the weekend.

‘This has been a historic storm. Without a doubt, this is one for the record books,’ New York Governor Kathy Hochul said at a briefing Sunday.

Snow began falling Thursday in towns south of Buffalo. By Saturday, the National Weather Service recorded 77 inches in Orchard Park, home to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, and 72 inches in Natural Bridge, a hamlet near Watertown off the eastern end of Lake Ontario.

Similar multiday storms have brought bigger snowfall totals than that in the past to New York, but the ferocity of the storm on Friday appeared to threaten the state’s record for most snowfall in a 24 hour period: the 50 inches that fell on Camden, New York, on February 1, 1966.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jason Alumbaugh, who is based in Buffalo, said it was too early to say whether any of this year’s snowfalls exceeded that record.

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