The day before Thanksgiving is notorious for road delays in major metropolitan areas, while the Sunday after the holiday is when airports experience their busiest traffic. As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, many people across the country are making plans to either fly or drive to visit their loved ones. Some claim that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year, but this assertion has been debunked by several news articles over the past decade.
While it is true that roads in major U.S. cities experience the most congestion on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving due to increased car travel, the same cannot be said for air travel. In fact, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is far less busy for airports compared to the Sunday that follows the holiday.
According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the busiest day of the year for airports nationwide in 2019 was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with over 2.8 million people screened that day. This remained the agency’s busiest day until June 30, 2023 when they again screened over 2.8 million people. It is expected that a new record will be set on Sunday, November 26, 2023, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with TSA expecting to screen over 2.9 million people on that day. On the other hand, the agency anticipates screening 2.6 million people on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and 2.7 million people on the day before Thanksgiving, which are not among the top 10 busiest days for air travel in TSA history.
However, data from AAA reveals that the majority of holiday travel is done by automobile rather than by plane, train, or bus. AAA states that the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest day for road travel during the holiday period. While there is no specific data source confirming the single day with the most cars on the road annually, AAA reports that average travel times on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving can be up to 80% longer than usual in certain metropolitan areas.
AAA’s holiday travel reports in 2019 consistently estimated potential travel delays for every holiday, which they did not do in 2023. In 10 metro areas, road delays on the day before Thanksgiving in that year were about three times longer than usual, surpassing the average delays during the peak travel periods of December holidays, Independence Day, and Memorial Day.
In conclusion, while the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is indeed the busiest day for road travel in major metropolitan areas, the Sunday after Thanksgiving takes the crown as the busiest day for air travel. Travelers should plan accordingly and expect significant congestion and delays on the roads and at airports during these times.