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Thanksgiving travel tips: Best and worst days to fly or drive

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(NEW YORK) — As Thanksgiving approaches, millions of Americans are gearing up to hit the highway or head to the airport — and some airlines are expecting their busiest Thanksgiving ever.

Here’s what you need to know:

Thanksgiving travel by air

AAA projects 4.7 million travelers will fly over Thanksgiving — a 6.6% increase from last year. This would mark the highest number of people flying for Thanksgiving since 2005.

The busiest and most expensive days to fly before Thanksgiving will be Tuesday, Nov. 21, and Wednesday, Nov. 22, according to AAA.

The best day to go to the airport for Thanksgiving is Monday, Nov. 20, when flights will be 12% cheaper than on Nov. 22, according to Expedia.

The Transportation Security Administration said it expects to screen 30 million passengers during its Thanksgiving travel period, which runs from Nov. 17 to Nov. 28.

“We expect this holiday season to be our busiest ever. In 2023, we have already seen seven of the top 10 busiest travel days in TSA’s history,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement. “We are ready for the anticipated volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to make sure we are prepared for this busy holiday travel season. We will also do our best to maintain wait time standards of under 10 minutes for TSA PreCheck® lanes and under 30 minutes for standard screening lanes.”

The most popular domestic destinations for Thanksgiving this year are New York City, Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida, according to Hopper. Internationally, the most popular cities are London, Tokyo and Paris.

The cheapest days to return home will be Friday, Nov. 24, or Monday, Nov. 27, according to Hopper.

United Airlines said it expects to have its busiest Thanksgiving ever, with over 5.9 million passengers — a 13% increase from last year.

United anticipates that Sunday, Nov. 26, will be one of its busiest days since before the pandemic, with more than 517,000 people expected to fly.

Due to remote work, United said its holiday travel period has extended. United said the demand for flying the Monday before Thanksgiving is up nearly 10% from 2019, while demand for flying the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is only up 3%.

American Airlines said it predicts a record 7.8 million passengers over Thanksgiving.

American said Sunday, Nov. 26, and Monday, Nov. 27, will be its busiest days.

Thanksgiving travel by road

AAA projects that 55.4 million people will drive 50 miles or farther from home for Thanksgiving — a 2.3% increase from last year. This marks the third-highest Thanksgiving forecast since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000.

The busiest day on the roads is expected to be Wednesday, Nov. 22, according to transportation analytics company INRIX. Drivers should leave home in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest traffic, INRIX said.

On Sunday, Nov. 26, the worst traffic is forecast to be between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The best time to hit the road will be before noon, according to INRIX.

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