Thanksgiving travel expected to return to near pre-pandemic levels

Whether you're traveling by plane, train or automobile this Thanksgiving, experts say to pack your patience as more Americans are expected to hit the road post-pandemic. 

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.

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.

"I'm thankful to have a family, I'm thankful to be able to tavel after the pandemic," said Carla Wilkins who was catching a flight at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday. "Not being able to get to loved ones, you have to do everything online or via Zoom during the holidays, that was really bad, so I'm grateful to be able to be with loved ones."

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.

An increase in airfare isn't stopping travelers either. According to the travel app Hopper, the price of a domestic ticket climbed to $325, a 17% increase since last year.

"It was a little more expensive, so we're traveling now instead of Christmas, because Christmas was a lot more expensive," Jennifer Borneman of Coastesville, Pennsylvania said. 

AAA predicts that 54.6 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home in the U.S. this week, a 1.5% bump over Thanksgiving last year and only 2% less than in 2019. The auto club and insurance seller says nearly 49 million of those will travel by car, and 4.5 million will fly between Wednesday and Sunday.

People getting behind the wheel or boarding a plane don't seem fazed by higher gasoline and airfare prices than last year or the widespread concern about inflation and the economy. That is already leading to predictions of strong travel over Christmas and New Year's.

"This pent-up demand for travel is still a real thing. It doesn’t feel like it’s going away," says Tom Hall, a vice president and longtime writer for Lonely Planet, the publisher of travel guides. "That's keeping planes full, that's keeping prices high."

The Associated Press contributed to this report