(Reuters): Millions of Americans headed to the homes of friends and family on Wednesday, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, on the busiest travel day since the pandemic, undeterred by a sprawling East Coast storm system that disrupted some flights and slowed traffic.
Industry group Airlines for America forecast U.S. airlines would carry some 29.9 million passengers between Nov. 17 and Nov. 27. That figure would be an all-time high, 9.0 per cent higher than last year and up 1.7 million passengers from the levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, 2.6 million passengers were screened at airport security checkpoints, the highest ever for Tuesday before Thanksgiving, according to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, and Wednesday was expected to be even busier.
The American Automobile Association projects 55.4 million travellers will head 50 miles (80 km) or more away from home from Wednesday to Sunday, up 2.3 per cent over last year and the third highest since the motorists group began tracking holiday travel in 2000 – though still lower than the number recorded in 2019, before COVID.
Falling gas prices and airfares have made travel more affordable as inflation has eased. Gas prices have dropped 15 per cent since mid-September, according to GasBuddy, a tracking website, while the travel site Hopper showed that flights for Thanksgiving week were 14 per cent cheaper than last year.
The storm that brought downpours and gusting winds to much of the eastern U.S. on Tuesday was moving offshore on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service, but the Carolinas and other parts of the southern Atlantic coast were still expected to see thunderstorms.
Meanwhile, a “white Thanksgiving” was likely for parts of New England, the service said, where some New Hampshire towns woke up on Wednesday to as much as six inches (15 cm) of snow.
Most of the weather is expected to clear by Thursday, when millions of Americans will gather for the traditional turkey meal and watch American football on TV.
Out West, a snowstorm in the northern and central Rocky Mountains and adjacent High Plans will likely affect Thanksgiving travel from Wednesday night through Friday, the weather service said.
The official holiday dates to the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a day to give thanks and seek healing.