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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: As Thanksgiving travel rises, officials say planning can help ease the journey

The parking lot at Spokane International Airport is largely full in November 2021.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Millions of people across the country will get into their cars or onto planes to travel this Thanksgiving holiday, making it important to plan ahead and leave plenty of time to reach your destination.

Lisa Anciaux, director of travel products for AAA Washington, said 54.4 million people nationwide are expected to travel more than 50 miles from their home between Wednesday and Sunday. That’s an increase of a little more than 2% over last year and is the third highest Thanksgiving travel estimate since AAA started tracking travel data in 2000.

“I can tell everyone it will be crowded,” she said.

Travel peaked in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought the numbers crashing down. People seem to be willing to travel again, Anciaux said. “Now it’s fully back up again,” she said. “People are still getting over that COVID thinking and wanting to get out more.”

Of those traveling, 49.1 million are expected to travel by car and another 4.7 million by plane. The estimate for travelers in the Pacific Northwest is 6.5 million. About 300,000 of those travelers are expected to come from Idaho.

“If you are going to travel by car, don’t travel at peak time,” Anciaux said. “That Wednesday before Thanksgiving is going to be the heavier car travel time.”

Anciaux recommends that people leave either very early Wednesday or later in the day to avoid the worst of the traffic on the roads. Some areas, such as Seattle, still have road construction ongoing, which can slow traffic.

Matthew Conde, public affairs director of AAA Idaho, said estimates show that between 2 and 6 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday will be the busiest travel times, along with between 3 and 5 p.m. Sunday.

Conde said that gas in Idaho is now 50 cents less a gallon than it was last year, which seems to be a factor in the increase in travelers this year.

“People are going to be a lot more willing to get on the road,” he said. “We don’t think gas prices are going to be an obstacle this year.”

AAA does expect to get around 365,000 calls for emergency roadside assistance during the Thanksgiving holiday this year, Conde said. Most of those calls will be due to dead batteries, flat tires and people accidentally getting locked out of their cars. He recommends having fluid levels, batteries and tires checked before a long trip in the hopes of avoiding a roadside breakdown.

The top destinations for Idaho travelers are to places that are usually considerably warmer than the Gem State in November. The No. 1 destination is Anaheim, home of Disneyland. Other top spots are Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Orlando, home of Disney World.

Airports also are expected to be busy. Spokane International Airport is recommending that travelers arrive two hours early for their flight instead of the usual one hour to allow plenty of time to go through security. “Those security lines are going to be long,” Anciaux said.

Regular travelers might also notice that the Spokane airport recently renumbered several gates in the A, B and C concourses as its expansion plans continue. The changes affect gates belonging to Alaska, American, Delta, United, Southwest and Allegiant airlines. Travelers should pay attention to new airport signage and ask for assistance if needed.

Overall people should be prepared for delays and try to be kind to others who are also traveling to meet with family for the holiday, Anciaux said.

“Pack your patience with you,” she said. “Just go with the flow.”