Is This Really the Busiest Travel Day?

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So far, it seems that airport delays and other inconveniences have been minimal today, a good sign for millions of Thanksgiving travelers. That especially bodes well after the traditional hand-wringing about the busiest travel day of the year.

But is today actually the busiest travel day of the year? That depends how you're going, but for airlines the answer is a clear no. And it's not even close.

Federal statistics found that in recent years, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving didn't rank in the top 25 busiest travel days of the year for air travel, including a ranking of 55th in 2007 and 36th in 2006. Likewise, the days before Christmas generally rank below the top 20. Airports are expected to be much more crowded on weekends in the summer, when families are taking off for vacations.

For drivers, however, Thanksgiving is a rough time. According to AAA surveys, roughly 90 percent of the people going more than 50 miles will drive. This year, that's making Thanksgiving the busiest travel holiday since the start of the recession, with 42.5 million people traveling. Of those, 38.2 million are going by car, with another 3.4 million flying.

Interestingly, most of the travel that AA predicts will come on Thanksgiving day, not the day before. And airlines have said that during the Thanksgiving weekend, it's the return trips on Sunday and Monday that contribute to most of the traffic, rather than Wednesday being the busiest day.

That said, it's going to be more expensive to travel across the board. AAA found that gas, hotels and airline tickets and Amtrak round trip tickets had all risen in price compared to last year, with median spending expected to be $554 per person for the entire weekend.

Image by Flickr user dougww.

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November 23, 2011 - 10:45am
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