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Thanksgiving travel predicted to rebound close to pre-pandemic levels

AAA is urging travelers to be proactive making plans this year, as more than 53.4 million people are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday.

ST. LOUIS — Airports and roads may be bustling this year, as AAA predicts more than 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. That's a 13% increase from 2020.

This year’s forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005, bringing travel volumes close to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

The increase in people traveling and the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers, may cause more crowded roads and airports. AAA is urging travelers to be proactive when making their travel plans this holiday season.

“International travel re-opening will allow people to reconnect with friends and family and explore new places, while also giving a much-needed boost to the economy,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel in a news release. “But it also means airports will be busier than we’ve seen, so travelers must plan for longer lines and extra time for TSA checks.”

It's recommended to book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible. Working with a travel advisor to make any last-minute changes and explore travel insurance options may be helpful.

Travelers are urged to consider booking a flight during non-peak travel times, arrive at the airport early, and hit the road early when there's less traffic.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” says Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst, INRIX. “Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”

AAA suggests getting an inspection to check key components of your vehicle, like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels before any long road trip.

The CDC released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and travel, saying the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated, if eligible.

Masks are still required for everyone on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling throughout the U.S. The CDC also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public, if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.

As of November 8, the U.S. opened its borders to fully vaccinated international travelers. When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine.

The actual number of holiday travelers may change as we approach Thanksgiving. An increase in reported COVID-19 cases may cause some people to stay home, while others may note the progress in vaccinations and make last-minute decisions to travel.