Swarms of people descended on America’s airports and roads Wednesday heading to visit family members for Thanksgiving – in many cases, for the first time since the pandemic began.
Wednesday is gearing up to be the busiest day for travel in the country: The Transportation Security Administration expects 20 million people to pass through airport checkpoints throughout the country through Sunday.
Between Friday and Tuesday, the agency already had screened more than 10 million people, according to TSA figures; 2.2 million were screened Tuesday – more than double the amount who passed through the gates in 2020, as the pandemic raged.
It is dealing with 4,200 fewer employees to meet increased demand, as 7 percent of the agency’s employees have not received a COVID vaccine in accordance with President Biden’s mandate, which went into effect Monday. But TSA officials said that will not affect Thanksgiving travel and that airline officials have increased their staff.
AAA also predicts 53.4 million people will travel for Thanksgiving this year – an increase of 13 percent, or 6.4 million more travelers, from last year. Of those, it says, 48.3 million will drive and 4.2 million will fly.
Another one million will travel via other means, including rail.
‘This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,’ said Paula Twidale, the senior vice president of AAA Travel. ‘Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holidays.’
But travelers are going to face sky-high fuel prices, and increased car rental and flight prices. Demand is hitting a peak from the slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic amid a global supply chain crisis and fuel spikes.
NEW YORK: A young girl pointed at the signs in John F. Kennedy Airport Wednesday as her family waited in line to pass through security
NEW YORK: Hundreds of people waited in line Wednesday at the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at JFK Airport
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA: Passengers waited in line Wednesday to board an Amtrak train ahead of the holiday
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Passengers arrived at the terminal of the Newark Liberty International Airport on Wednesday
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Travelers waited Wednesday in line near a sign for a COVID testing site
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: The scene at Newark Liberty International Airport Wednesday as the TSA prepared to screen millions
NEW YORK: The TSA expects to screen 20 million passengers at its checkpoints through next Sunday
NEW YORK: AAA also predicts that 53.4 million people will travel for the holiday this year – an increase of 13 percent, or 6.4 million more travelers, from last year
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Wednesday was gearing up to be the busiest travel day in the United States
NEW YORK: A man carried his bags into John F. Kennedy Airport as day broke early Wednesday morning
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: A fluffy service dog hung out of a woman’s backpack as she passed through the terminal
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Families made their way through the TSA line at Newark Liberty International Airport on Wednesday
NEW YORK: Of those 53.4 million people, the majority, 48.3 million people, are expected to drive
The scene at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was chaotic early Wednesday morning, with swarms of people waiting in long lines to pass through checkpoints and check-in to their flights.
And at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, long lines were already forming at the checkpoints as military officials and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled the area.
In Los Angeles, the airport was starting to fill up around 7am local time. But Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport is actually expected to be the busiest of the nation’s airports, with 154,000 people departing from the hub Wednesday, according to Hopper, an app that predicts flight prices.
Dallas Fort-Worth and Los Angeles airports came in as second and third busiest airports. JFK was still in the top 10, coming in at number nine.
NEW YORK: JFK is expected to be the ninth busiest airport during the holiday season
NEW YORK: A man at JFK was seen carrying flowers, as millions of Americans fly home to meet up with their loved ones
NEW YORK: Passengers passed through Terminal 8 at JFK Wednesday morning as they waited for their flights
NEW YORK: A young girl used her mother’s suitcase as a seat as they waited in line at bag drop
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: People waited for their luggage at baggage claim as they went home for the holidays
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA: A traveler boarded an Amtrak train ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday
NEW YORK: One man was seen charging and listening to music as he waited
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Passengers rushed to get to their planes the day before the Thanksgiving holiday
NEW YORK: A girl checked her phone as her father carried her through the TSA checkpoint Wednesday
NEW YORK: A man kept his chihuahua warm in the frigid weather Wednesday as he waited for his plane at LaGuardia Airport
NEW YORK: A majority of those traveling for the holidays are expected to drive
NEW YORK: One passenger was clearly exhausted Wednesday from all the holiday travel at LaGuardia Airport
NEW YORK: People were seen entering and leaving JFK Airport early Wednesday morning
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: People arrived at the Newark Liberty International Airport off a shuttle on Wednesday morning
NEW YORK: A family rolled their suitcases to the airport as they prepared for their flight Wednesday
Airlines are adding more staff to deal with the Thanksgiving surge, offering overtime or bonuses for employees who work the holiday, and TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein tweeted on Monday morning that the vaccine mandate would not affect airline travel.
She wrote: ‘Approximately 93 percent of @TSA employees are in compliance with today’s deadline for the federal employee vaccine mandate and exemption requirements. The employee vaccine mandate will not impact holiday travel. Happy Thanksgiving!’
Delta has hired 8,000 new employees, including 1,500 reservation agents, Reuters reports, and Southwest hired more than 4,500 employees in the past few months.
American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue also are offering bonuses, higher pay and other incentives to ensure they have enough workers to meet the demand, and Southwest has cut its flight schedule to enhance on-time performance. It also added more employees to its customer relations department.
No major problems had been reported as of Wednesday morning.
NEW YORK: JFK Airport was swarming with long lines of people Wednesday morning, before the Thanksgiving holiday
DENVER, COLORADO: Travelers entered the terminal from an underground train at Denver International Airport on Tuesday
NEW YORK: Airline officials have said that for Wednesday they have deployed more staff to deal with the pent-up demand for Thanksgiving travel
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA: A traveler boarded an Amtrak train a day ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday
NEW YORK: Crowds of passengers waited to board trains Wednesday at New York’s new Moynihan Train Hall in Penn Station
NEW YORK: TSA officials said they are prepared for the surge with ‘reduced physical contact’
The high cost of driving for the holidays this year
A surge in people traveling this holiday season has sent travel-related expenses skyrocketing, with travel site Kayak reporting that the average cost of rental cars are up 75 percent from 2019 and 66 percent from 2020.
Jonathan Weinberg, the founder and CEO of Autoslash.com said consumers are spending as much as $300 a day for a rental car in New York, and the average is about $100 more per day than it was to rent a car in 2019.
Experts attribute the high costs to a shortage of rental cars and a supply-chain shortage of the computer chips used in modern cars.
Auto makers were also forced to shut down production during the coronavirus pandemic, depreciating the value of cars, which many sold.
Meanwhile, the cost of fuel has been increasing in recent months, leveling off on Friday at $3.41 per gallon.
That’s seven cents higher than it was at the same time last year, meaning Americans are spending an average of $19.35 more each time they fill up their 15-gallon car.
But the surge in people traveling this holiday season has sent travel-related expenses skyrocketing.
Hopper announced that the average domestic flight during Thanksgiving was on track to be about $293 round trip – $48 more than last year.
And travel site Kayak reports that the average cost of rental cars are up 75 percent from 2019, and 66 percent from 2020.
Jonathan Weinberg, the founder and CEO of Autoslash.com, also said consumers are spending as much as $300 a day to rent a car in places like New York, and the average price nationwide is about $100 more per day, or about 50 percent higher, than it was to rent a car in 2019.
‘Things are pretty crazy at the moment, and the reason is because we have a massive shortage of rental cars, there is a semiconductor shortage – basically computer chips are not available with today’s modern cars [and] they require over 100 chips in each one,’ he told the New York Post.
‘I think there was a lot of apprehension last year and the rental car companies still had enough inventory to meet that demand, and now it’s completely flipped on its head,’ he added.
‘They just sold off too many cars in the middle of 2020 when COVID was impacting their business and they thought they were going to buy back those cars when they needed them, but it turns out, things were not quite as simple as they thought.’
Ivan Drury, the senior manager of insight at Edmund’s, also said the automotive industry has been in chaos since the pandemic began last year.
‘It really comes down to the fact that last year, during the heat of the pandemic, the rental agencies weren’t moving units, no one was moving cars, they were just depreciating assets,’ he told the Post. ‘They decided they were just going to have to sell these things.’
Around the same time, he said, automakers were forced to shut down their factories and they halted orders on the semiconductor chips, which are needed for everything in a modern car from heated seats to navigation systems.
Then when the economy came roaring back, they were not able to procure the parts they needed.
‘Right now, new car dealers only have about 20 percent of the inventory that they are accustomed to having during a normal year,’ Drury said. ‘So we’ve even seen that rental agencies [who] want to buy X amount of units, they can’t even get those delivered to them.
‘Some rental car agencies are even resorting to used cars,’ he said.
NEW YORK: People entered Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy International Airport as the sun rose on Wednesday morning
DENVER, COLORADO: The scene at Denver International Airport was chaotic Tuesday with passengers scrambling to get through the TSA checkpoint
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: LAX was already starting to get crowded by around 7am local time on Wednesday
WASHINGTON, DC: Travelers walked through Union Station on Wednesday to catch their trains
NEW YORK: People were seen hugging their loved ones, as many visit family members for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began last year
NEW YORK: A bomb and explosive dog for the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday was on high alert
NEW YORK: Passengers checked into their flights on Wednesday as the cost of flights rose nearly $50
NEW YORK: A family was seen unloading their car Wednesday at LaGuardia Airport as they prepared for their flight
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Travelers lined up on Tuesday to board their planes at the Los Angeles International Airport
NEW YORK: A father hugged his son Wednesday as he pulled suitcases out of his car on the day before Thanksgiving
Meanwhile, gas prices throughout the country have been steadily rising over the past few months.
They finally leveled off last week, averaging $3.41 per gallon nationwide on Friday, according to the American Automobile Association. That is seven cents higher than it was one year ago, USA Today reports, which means Americans are spending an average of $19.35 more each time they fill up their 15-gallon car.
Last Wednesday, Biden asked regulators to investigate oil and gas companies possibly inflating their prices, but the industry’s lobbying association, the American Petroleum Institute, criticized Biden for the move.
Frank Macchiarola, the senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs called the president’s push for a probe a ‘distraction from the ongoing market problems, USA Today reported, and claimed ‘ill-advised government decisions’ are exacerbating the issue.
‘Rather than launching investigations on markets that are regulated and closely-monitored on a daily basis, or pleading with OPEC to increase supply, we should be encouraging the safe and responsible development of American-made oil and natural gas,’ he said.
NEW YORK: TSA workers manned the long security lines at LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday
NEW YORK: The TSA said it has enough staff to meet the surge in passengers expected for the Thanksgiving holiday
NEW YORK: The sun shined through LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday as passengers tried to get to their planes
NEW YORK: A passenger showed an airline official his boarding pass the day before Thanksgiving
NEW YORK: Airline officials prepared to board their planes at LaGuardia airport
NEW YORK: Some people even brought their dogs along for the ride Wednesday as they went to meet up with loved ones
NEW YORK: Passengers fled to their gates at LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday morning
Still, the majority of Americans who are traveling this holiday season are expected to drive.
‘There are a couple of really big driving holidays… Thanksgiving is one of them,’ Bob Pishue, an analyst with transportation analytics company INRIX told USA Today.
He said travel ‘won’t be as bad as it was in 2019, but the roads are definitely more congested than they were last year.’
INRIX found that nationwide traffic delays are expected to be about 40 percent higher than normal over Thanksgiving. The busiest cities will include Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.
Pishue is now recommending that people driving for the holidays leave after 9pm on Wednesday or before 11am on Thursday.
And to come home, he said, the best time to leave would be before noon on Saturday and Sunday.
‘Leaving in the morning is definitely the best bet,’ he said. ‘Even on a normal day, midday and afternoon traffic is pretty heavy in a lot of places just as bad now as it was pre-COVID.
NEW YORK: The scene at the TSA PreCheck line at LaGuardia airport where passengers can expedite the security process
NEW YORK: One woman showed a security official something on her phone as she waited for her flight
NEW YORK: Soldiers were seen guarding LaGuardia airport during the chaotic scene on Wednesday
NEW YORK: A woman prepared to take out her identification for the TSA line at LaGuardia airport
NEW YORK: The scene outside LaGuardia airport in New York, where people were departing cars with their luggage in tow
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also warns that drivers have been making more ‘risky decisions’ since the pandemic began, including driving while intoxicated or without a seatbelt.
It estimates than 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of the year, up 18 percent from the same time in 2020. That is the largest number of projected fatalities for that time frame since 2006.
These problems are only expected to worsen during the holiday season.
The NHTSA found that there was an uptick in impaired drivers during the holiday season, with nearly 800 people dying in crashes involving a drunk driver over Thanksgiving weekend from 2015 to 2019.
‘If we thought it was going to be a problem before COVID, it’s definitely a problem now,’ Pishue told USA Today. ‘We hope to see fewer fatalities and road accidents and collisions, but with how things have been going during COVID, it’s definitely a concern.’