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Thanksgiving travel 2022: Best times, big storms, crowded airports

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While Thanksgiving is a day of food and family, the journey to the dining room table can be a harrowing one, especially if you’re traveling with kids.

Your window to beat the crowds? That’s closed unfortunately. The Transportation Security Administration says the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving are often the busiest travel days of the year. And AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more this year.

While you’re unlikely to avoid crowds altogether, you might be able to avoid the worst of them with a little planning.

Thanksgiving travel by car

If you’re driving, as most people traveling this year are, the worst traffic will be Wednesday between 11:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. You can also expect crowded roads on Thursday between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. as people head to and from dinner.

For return trips, roads will be busiest between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., meaning an early start could save you some headaches.

If you’re traveling through some big cities, the worst times will vary, depending on your route. Here are estimates from AAA on the increases over typical traffic some cities will see:

Atlanta

Worst corridor: I-85 South; Clairmont Rd to MLK Jr Dr
Worst day and time: Wednesday 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Increase over typical traffic: 105%

Chicago

Worst corridor: I-290 West, Morgan Street to Wolf Road
Worst day: Wednesday 3-5 p.m.
Increase over typical traffic: 99%

Houston

Worst corridor: I-10 West; Sjolander Rd to TX-330
Worst day and time : Wednesday 3:45-5:45 p.m.
Increase over typical traffic: 81%

Los Angeles

Worst corridor: I-5 South, Colorado Street to Florence Avenue
Worst day and time: Wednesday 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Increase over typical traffic: 144%

New York

Worst corridor: I-278 South, I-495 to 6th Ave
Worst day and time: Wednesday 2:45-4:45 p.m.
Increase over typical traffic: 158%

Thanksgiving travel by air

With staff shortages and, in many cases, a reduced number of flights, flying is going to be rough this year, though carriers are trying to avoid the troubles they faced this summer.

Flying on Thanksgiving morning could offer you some relief, but odds are if you’re flying for the holidays, you’ve already purchased your tickets, so advice about the best days and times won’t help a lot. There are still a few ways to make things easier, though.

  • Get TSA Pre-Check, Clear or other security expediting service. You’ll pay (roughly) between $100 and $200, but it will help if the security lines are backed up and you’re running late.
  • Make an advance “fast pass” reservation to head to the front of the security line. This free service isn’t available in all airports, but if you’re traveling through Charleston, SC; Dallas-fort Worth; JFK in New York; LAX in Los Angeles; Newark; Orlando; Phoenix; or Seattle, you can make an advance reservation to pass through TSA lines without a wait.
  • Travel with only a carry-on if you can manage it. Luggage pick-up can add a considerable amount of time to your trip.
  • Know what you can and can’t bring on board. Turkeys? Yes. Gravy? No.

A big storm could make getting home a bit challenging

The weather shouldn’t be a factor for most people when it comes to getting to your destination this year. Getting home, though, could be another matter.

Forecasters at AccuWeather warn that a developing storm system could cause headaches. It will start in the Northwest with rain and snow on Tuesday before pushing into the southern Plains on Thanksgiving, where it’s expected to intensify.

By the end of the holiday weekend, the eastern seaboard could be under some rough conditions, which would result in flight delays in Atlanta, New York and other hubs—and which will make driving more challenging, especially with more people on the road. Ultimately, it will all come down to how fast the storm moves.

Travelers, keep your fingers crossed for a quick moving one, which should let you avoid bad weather.

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