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AAA predicts third-busiest year for Thanksgiving travel as holiday rush begins

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In the air and on the ground, the Thanksgiving travel rush has started. Experts predict numbers not seen in years after two holiday seasons marked by COVID-19 restrictions, with nearly 55 million Americans expected to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday, according to AAA.

Hoosiers head to the airport

Travel at airports, including Indianapolis International Airport, is increasing.

Airport officials say they usually see about 13,000 passengers each day, but the Thanksgiving holiday is expected to bring 16,500 passengers per day.

Megan Carrico, the airport’s director of public affairs, says the busiest travel times will be in the morning before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday.

“Plan ahead and prepare,” Carrico said. “Be two hours early for your flight.”

Masks are no longer required at the airport or on airplanes, but Carrico says the Transportation Security Administration is allowing travelers to carry hand sanitizer in bottles up to 12 ounces instead of only 3 ounces.

Check the status of your flight at the Indianapolis International Airport website.

Indiana drivers hit the road

This year is expected to be the third busiest day for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000.

AAA expects 54.6 million people to travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving this year, and 49 million of those people will be going by car. That is about a 1.5% increase over last year, and AAA says it is 98% of pre-pandemic levels.

AAA says the best time to hit the road is before 8 a.m. and the worst time to travel is between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Date Worst travel time Best travel time
11/23/22 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM Before 8:00 AM, After 8:00 PM
11/24/22 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM Before 11:00 AM, After 6:00 PM
11/25/22 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM Before 11:00 AM, After 8:00 PM
11/26/22 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM Before 2:00 PM, After 8:00 PM
11/27/22 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM Before 11:00 AM, After 8:00 PM
(Data provided by AAA Hoosier Motor Club)

Air travel is up nearly 8% over 2021, with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations this year, according to AAA. It said that’s an increase of more than 330,000 travelers and nearly 99% of the 2019 volume.

AAA reports that Americans are also ramping up travel by other modes of transportation. More than 1.4 million travelers are going out of town for Thanksgiving by bus, train, or cruise ship. That’s an increase of 23% from 2021 and 96% of the 2019 volume.

“The second highest we had was 2019 – which is obviously right before the pandemic – so it is a real clear sign that we are getting right back to where we were before everything kind of stopped a few years ago. The highest we have ever seen was back in 2005. But again, coming back to 2019 numbers and being so close to those numbers, means we are right back to where we should be,” Lisa Wall, senior manager/promotions and communications for AAA Hoosier Motor Club, said.

2000 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast Chart
(Provided Photo/AAA Hoosier Motor Club)

When it comes to gas prices, they are historically high this Thanksgiving but dipped slightly in Indiana over the last week. As of Wednesday morning, Gas Buddy says the average gas price in Indiana was $3.77. 

“When you look at where gas prices were a year ago, we are about 50 cents higher than we were this time a year ago. And it is one of the highest, if not the highest, Thanksgiving gas prices that we have seen on record. What we have seen though, even with these historically high gas prices, is that it is not deterring people from traveling and getting to where they need to go. People are going to find a way to get there. But, the good news is, we have actually seen gas prices go down over the past week and we are kind of trending down, which is a great sign and is definitely going to make things a little easier for people this Thanksgiving,” Wall said.

People should expect to see more officers on the roads, too. Indiana State Police is upping patrols now through New Year’s day. It’s part of the Safe Travel Campaign to deter any drunk driving and promote seat belt use and safety on the roads.

AAA suggests travelers give themselves extra time to get where they are going, avoid peak travel times, and plan to pack patience.