Thanksgiving air travel didn’t hit the 2019 record highs, but it was close. About 2.3 million people passed through Transportation Safety Administration checkpoints on Wednesday, more travelers than on any other day during the pandemic.
This figure was more than twice as many travelers as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving last year. This year’s total was approx 88 percent of the travelers who flew on that same Wednesday in 2019.
Social media was abuzz with almost equal complaints about the longest airport lines people had experienced in years and the surprise that the lines were so short, reinforcing the idea that pandemic unpredictability persists.
Among those travelers who shared a sense of excitement about being able to visit family this Thanksgiving was Katie Thurston of San Diego, known to some as the season 17 Bachelorette of that reality show.
“Going back to something that feels normal makes me feel so emotional,” she said in a phone interview, after tweeting about her tearful reaction to landing in Seattle to visit her mother and sister and her baby niece for the first time to meet.
Hundreds of airport food service workers pecked at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday over a health care dispute. But contrary to some passengers’ fears — and warnings from the Southwest Airlines pilots’ union in August — there were no strikes by flight attendants or pilots on Wednesday.
Amid concerns that passengers would become aggressive with flight attendants and argue over masks — issues during the pandemic — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland urged federal prosecutors to prioritize the prosecution of passengers who commit violence or other crimes on board.
Typically, the busiest days for air travel during the Thanksgiving season are the Tuesday and Wednesday before the holidays, and the Sunday after, according to a TSA spokesperson.
United said the airline expected the Sunday after Thanksgiving to be its busiest day since the pandemic began. Still, it seemed unlikely that the day would top prepandemic travel numbers overall, given how extraordinary that weekend was two years ago. More people flew on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019 — according to TSA checkpoint data — than ever before in the agency’s 20-year history.
And travelers are unlikely to experience weather delays trying to get home.
“Sunday is pretty quiet in much of the country,” said Lara Pagano, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Still, Becky Esquivel, a TSA officer at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, urged people to arrive at least two hours before boarding their return flight, just to be safe.