Thanksgiving, synonymous with turkey and family gatherings, is also a hallmark of one of the busiest travel periods in the United States. Each year, the holiday sets into motion a massive migration of millions of Americans crisscrossing the nation, presenting a unique set of opportunities and challenges for the travel industry.
Recent statistics from the American Automobile Association (AAA) highlight this phenomenon. In 2019, an estimated 55 million people travelled during the Thanksgiving period, a number only surpassed by the record set in 2005. The vast majority of these travellers, approximately 49.3 million, embarked on road trips, driven by the allure of flexibility and the cost-effectiveness of car travel.
Air travel also sees a significant uptick during this period. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported screening millions of passengers, with the day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after being among the busiest of the year. Airlines, in response, increase flights and adjust schedules to cater to this surge, often resulting in peak ticket prices.
However, the influx of travellers brings logistical complexities. Airports face the challenge of efficiently managing increased passenger volumes, often leading to extended wait times and a heightened risk of flight delays and cancellations. Airlines and airport staff work diligently to navigate these seasonal challenges, ensuring smooth operations amid the rush.
The hotel and accommodation sector also experiences a notable boost. Major hotel chains, in anticipation of the increased demand, often offer special packages and deals. Prices tend to fluctuate based on location, with destinations known for Thanksgiving events, like New York City with its iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, experiencing higher rates.
The impact of Turkey Day travel
The economic impact of Thanksgiving travel is significant. Domestic travel spending for leisure is a major contributor to the economy, with Thanksgiving week being a crucial period for revenue generation. This spending extends beyond just transport and accommodation, encompassing dining, entertainment, and shopping, as travellers take advantage of the holiday to indulge in various activities. Alternative accommodation services like Airbnb and VRBO have also become popular, offering more personalized and often more budget-friendly options for families, especially those seeking larger spaces for group gatherings.
To manage the Thanksgiving traffic surge, transportation authorities often implement special measures. Highways may see increased patrols and road support services, while airports ramp up staffing and refine security processes. Despite these efforts, travellers are typically advised to plan well in advance and prepare for potential delays.