Thanksgiving travel: Best and worst times to go to airport, hit the road

The Thanksgiving travel rush has kicked off a little early this year, with people excited to see family after COVID kept many home in 2020. Tuesday and Wednesday are both expected to be very busy at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, as well as on Central Texas roads.

"Well, it’s all hands on deck here at the airport," said Sam Haynes, Acting Public Information Manager at ABIA, where holiday travel is already in full swing.

Travelers say they’re thrilled to be flying to see loved ones, after being grounded by the pandemic—many opting to spend a little longer this time around.

"The last year’s been so crazy. It’s always nice, like don’t take for granted getting home to see your family and everything. So we’re going a little early, spend a couple of extra days home," said Mark Boylan of Austin, who’s flying to Detroit for the holiday.

"It is nice to be able to see people face to face, rather than on Zoom or FaceTime, and to be able to actually touch ‘em and hug ‘em," said Sharon Bennett, who drove up with her husband Frank from San Antonio to catch a non-stop flight to Raleigh to see her father.

Austin’s airport already saw its second-busiest travel day ever on Sunday, and it’s only expected to get busier. "For Tuesday we are expecting right around that 30,000 passenger number, and anytime we see that we know that those days are going to be very busy, particularly in the morning before 9 AM," said Haynes.

From now through Monday after Thanksgiving, ABIA officials are advising travelers to arrive three hours before takeoff. "Plan ahead, arrive early, and pack your patience," said Haynes.

On the roads, a similar message for drivers—with 3.6 million Texans expected to travel by car between Wednesday and Sunday.

The price of gas is high--but not high enough, AAA says, to keep people home.  

"I guess you could call it good news. The price is down three cents on the week for regular unleaded. So it's now below $3 a gallon, the average in Austin," said Daniel Armbruster, spokesperson for AAA Texas.

Armbruster urges drivers to make sure their car is roadworthy before leaving. So when is the best time to drive? "Before 11AM on Thursday is a good time, before 11AM Friday and then before noon on Saturday and Sunday," said Armbruster. "If at all possible, avoid Wednesday afternoon."

Regardless of timing, experts say be ready for delays.

Given the uptick in aggressive drivers and unruly airline passengers, we got some wise advice from travelers. "Come early. Be nice to other people, and let’s just get along together," said Frank Bennett.

"Get here early, don’t be upset, and get a beer after security," said Boylan.

To cut down on your wait time at the airport, download your boarding pass on your phone ahead of time, and check, so you know what you can and cannot bring on board. And remember, masks are required on all planes and in the terminal for anyone over the age of 2. 

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