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November 13, 2023

Thanksgiving travel expected to be busiest since 2019

AAA predicts 55.4 million people will hit the roads and skies between Wednesday, Nov. 22 and Sunday, Nov. 26

Transportation Travel
Thanksgiving 2023 traffic Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

AAA forecasts the third-highest number of travelers over the Thanksgiving holiday period since 2000. The motor club association predicts 49.13 million people will drive 50 miles or more for their turkey dinner, and 4.69 million are projected to fly for it.

Holiday travelers should prepare themselves for traffic, as 2023 is expected to be the most congested Thanksgiving in years.

AAA predicts 55.4 million people will take planes, trains and automobiles between Wednesday, Nov. 22 and Sunday, Nov. 26 to their holiday dinners this year. That would put 2023 Thanksgiving travel close to 2019 levels, when nearly 56 million people journeyed home for the holiday. It would also mark the third-highest number of Thanksgiving travelers in America since 2000, when AAA began monitoring holiday travel trends. The most congested years were 2005 and 2019.

The vast majority of those travelers will be on the road. AAA projects that 49.13 million people will travel by car, while 4.69 million will catch a plane and another 1.55 million will board buses, trains and cruise ships. Though auto travel remains overwhelmingly popular, current projections show a 6.6% increase in air travel since 2022 and the highest number of flyers since 2005.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that increased demand has translated to a bump in domestic flight prices. According to AAA, the average ticket is $681, which is 5% more expensive than in 2022. Gas prices, however, are currently holding at around $3.37 nationally, which is lower than the $3.78 average observed last year.

The worst traffic is expected the Wednesday before the holiday. INRIX, a company that analyzes road travel, said the four-hour period of 2-6 p.m. on Nov. 22 would be the busiest holiday traveling hours. But drivers should also avoid the rush periods of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving, 12-4 p.m. on Friday and 3-5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

That's especially true for travelers in major metros areas. INRIX's 2022 traffic scorecard ranked Philadelphia as the fourth most congested city in America and the eighth most congested city in the world. Anyone hitting I-95 or I-676 next week should allow plenty of time — and make a really long playlist.

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