Thanksgiving holiday travel is beginning to look a lot like a return to the pre-pandemic normal, according to industry analysts.
The American Automobile Association predicts that 53.4 million people will travel to celebrate Thanksgiving over the holiday weekend compared to 47.1 million in 2020, the largest single-year increase since 2005.
The AAA said the anticipated surge in travel follows the easing of COVID-19 restrictions over the last year, as well as a higher number of Americans getting vaccinated and feeling more comfortable traveling to visit family.
"This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president for 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 holiday."
AAA Travel expects that 48.3 million will drive, 4.2 million will fly, and 1 million will use other means of transportation like busses, trains, or cruises over the weekend. In 2019, the last holiday before the pandemic, 47.1 million people traveled for Thanksgiving.
"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," Twidale explained. "But it also means airports will be busier than we've seen, so travelers must plan for long lines and extra time for TSA checks."
According to data from the Transportation Security Administration reported by The Guardian, 1,382,230 people went through TSA checkpoints on November 25, a large increase from the 560,902 individuals who traveled in 2020. The TSA recorded 1,591,158 people at checkpoints on Nov. 25 in 2019.
On Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving and typically the busiest travel day of the year, 2,207,949 people moved through TSA checkpoints this year compared to the 912,090 that did in 2020.
Public health officials like White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci have encouraged anyone gathering in groups for the holidays to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to celebrate a "normal" holiday.
However, a Hill-HarrisX poll released this week found that 65% of Thanksgiving hosts had no plans to require their visitors to be vaccinated or wear masks.
Only 21% of respondents said they would demand that their guests be vaccinated, and only 4% said they would require masks at their gatherings. 11 said they would require both.
Last year, several health experts predicted that holiday season gatherings could lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases and some made the same warning for this year.
A study published by the American Council on Science and Health in March 2021 analyzed data from the 2020 holiday season and found modest increases in COVID-19 infections in the three weeks before, between, and after Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. "Nevertheless, holiday gatherings do not appear to exert significant long-term increases in COVID-19 infections or fatalities," the study concluded.