177,000 South Dakotans, 54.6 million statewide, will travel for Thanksgiving

AAA predicts 54.6 million people nationwide will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving Day. That’s a 1.5% increase from 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic volume. This year is expected to be the third-busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA began tracking in 2000*. Local travelers will also be on the roads and in the air as more than 177,000 South Dakotans plan to travel over the holiday weekend. This is an increase of 1.2% compared to the previous year.

“Family and friends are looking forward to spending time together during this Thanksgiving holiday, one of the most travel-intensive in the past two decades,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel. “Plan ahead and pack your patience whether you’re driving or flying.”

Similar to last year, most travelers will travel to their destinations by car. Almost 49 million people are expected to travel by car. While Thanksgiving car trips are up slightly — up 0.4% from 2021 — car trips remain 2.5% below 2019 levels. In South Dakota, more than 160,000 will travel by car — the most popular mode of transportation, but only a slight 0.2% increase from last year.

Air travel is up nearly 8% from 2021, with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations this year. That’s an increase of more than 330,000 travelers and nearly 99% of 2019’s volume. For South Dakoto residents, air travel has also increased — with nearly 9,000 passengers — similar to the national trend, a 7.4% increase.

“Airport parking fills up quickly, so make sure you reserve a space well in advance and arrive early,” suggests Twidale. “Expect long TSA lines. Avoid checking one bag if possible to have more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule.”

Americans are also increasing travel by other modes of transportation. More than 1.4 million travelers leave the city for Thanksgiving by bus, train and cruise ship. That’s a 23% increase from 2021 and 96% of 2019’s volume. Similar to others across the country, more South Dakotans will also be traveling these trails, with more than 8,000 people — a 27% increase — traveling by bus, train, or cruises.

“Now that travel restrictions have been lifted and more people can comfortably use public transport again, it’s no surprise that buses, trains and cruise ships are coming back in a big way,” adds Twidale. “Regardless of what mode of transport you choose, expect crowds during your journey and at your destination. If your schedule is flexible, consider off-peak travel times during the holiday rush.”

*2005 and 2019 were the busiest years for Thanksgiving travel since AAA began tracking in 2000.

Busiest corridors and best/worst travel times

INRIX expects severe congestion in several U.S. metropolitan areas, with some drivers experiencing more than double the normal delays. Freeways in and around Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles will be the busiest. To avoid the busiest times, INRIX recommends traveling early Wednesday morning or before 11am on Thanksgiving Day and avoiding travel between 4pm and 8pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX. “Although travel times across the country will peak on Wednesday afternoon, travelers should expect much heavier congestion than normal throughout the bank holiday weekend. Knowing when and where congestion forms can help drivers avoid the stress of congestion.”

Vacation preparation for travelers

The travel season can be full of twists and turns. AAA Recommendations for a Safe and Fun Weekend, including the following:

  • Schedule a pre-launch vehicle maintenance inspection if traveling by car.
  • Download the AAA app to find the cheapest gas prices on the go.
  • Make sure your AAA membership is current. AAA roadside service crews will be deployed full force to rescue stranded drivers.
  • This past Thanksgiving weekend, AAA Emergency Roadside Service crews rescued more than 400,000 drivers across the country — nearly 500 in South Dakota.
  • Download your airline’s app when you fly to ensure you’re immediately notified of any flight schedule changes.
  • Pack your ID and all medical and insurance items in one easy-to-access place, whether it’s in your carry-on or in your pocket. Don’t pack it in your luggage.

Thanksgiving holiday travel time

For purposes of this forecast, the Thanksgiving holiday travel season is defined as the five-day period from Wednesday November 23rd to Sunday November 27th. The period from Wednesday to Sunday corresponds to that of previous years.