Thanksgiving travel to return to pre-pandemic levels

By: - November 22, 2021 11:41 am

Passengers line up for flights at Des Moines International Airport on July 13, 2021. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Thanksgiving travel is likely to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, travel experts say, including a resurgence of crowds and traffic.

The Des Moines International Airport expects “a significant increase in passenger traffic compared to 2020, possibly even edging ahead of 2019,” spokesperson Kayla Kovarna said.

“Local TSA officials are predicting approximately 21,100 passengers coming through the checkpoint between Wednesday and Sunday,” Kovarna said in an email. “Iowans can fly to 27 nonstop destinations out of Des Moines International this year, that is a 28% increase in nonstop options compared to 2019.”

National groups also predicted a return to normal traffic this year for both air and land travel. AAA expects travel will be “within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.”

“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,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.

There could be additional complications for holiday travelers by air. American Airlines canceled over 1,000 flights in late October due to workforce shortages and weather issues. Southwest also had widespread cancellations in October, though the company said it was a domino effect from inclement weather, rather than a staffing shortage issue. Both airlines have introduced staff incentives to ensure they are fully staffed through the holidays.

Kovarna said the Des Moines airport does not anticipate “more cancellations or delays beyond normal operations this holiday travel season.”

AAA also warned of more traffic on the roads, especially compared to 2020. They forecast 48.3 million Americans will travel by car this year, up nearly 4 million from last year.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” said INRIX Transportation Analyst Bob Pishue. “Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon.”

Travel experts urged patience and planning ahead.

Kovarna recommended that travelers through the Des Moines airport arrive earlier than usual to accommodate longer lines at security and at the gate. AAA advises booking flights and driving during “non-peak travel periods.

“It’s also great to remember that everyone is doing their best to get you to where you need to go as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Kovarna said.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.