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America travels for Thanksgiving

How airlines are preparing for millions of Thanksgiving passengers
02:13

What we're covering here

  • Home for the holiday: Millions of Americans are traveling ahead Thanksgiving, and airports and roads are expected to look way more like 2019 than our first pandemic holiday season.
  • The traffic: AAA predicts Thanksgiving travel overall will rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, with 53.4 million Americans expected to travel for the holiday.
  • The weather: About two-thirds of the country should have a “tranquil stretch” of weather this holiday, but some wind gusts could cause some hiccups from Dallas to Chicago.

Our live coverage has ended for the day.

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If you haven't headed to the airport yet, here are some tips on navigating your Thanksgiving flight

People wait in the line to clear through the TSA checkpoint at Miami International Airport on Wednesday, November 24.

The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen more than 20 million people at airport security checkpoints nationwide over a 10-day period that started Friday and lasts through the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

“I wouldn’t say there’s any worry because we planned for this for months in advance,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN’s Pete Muntean. “We have a lot of data, we work very closely with the carriers and the airports, so we know what to anticipate and then we staff to the volumes that we expect to see.”

The TSA anticipates the Sunday after Thanksgiving will likely see the highest numbers thanks to a rush of travelers returning home, but they will probably not reach the all-time record set on the same day in 2019 when 2.9 million people were screened at airports.

Air travelers should definitely be prepared for crowds, said Andrew Gross, spokesperson for AAA.

“So we’re telling people, look, you’re going to find lines at the airport. It’s just inevitable. So get there that old-fashioned at least two hours early. And if it’s an international flight, three hours early.”

If you haven’t gotten on your Thanksgiving flight yet, here are some tips for your trip:

  • Try the airline website or app to get rebooked if your flight is canceled. It’s usually faster, according to Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokesperson for FlightAware.
  • Book nonstop flights offered several times a day on major carriers to up your odds of getting rebooked on the same itinerary in a timely manner, said Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at airfare deals site Scott’s Cheap Flights.
  • To be really safe, book a backup flight.

Threat of wildfires in California could lead to Thanksgiving power shutoffs

Blustery and dry Santa Ana winds are whipping up a wildfire threat in Southern California this week, threatening a potential power shutoff over the Thanksgiving holiday.

A red flag warning affecting 17 million people went into effect Wednesday morning for Ventura, Los Angeles, portions of San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

A red flag warning means critical fire weather conditions are expected, including strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures, the NWS said.

The warning will be in effect through Friday afternoon.

Winds will be strongest Wednesday afternoon, according to the NWS. Some areas could experience isolated gusts of 60 to 70 mph across the foothills and mountains.

In the San Diego area, conditions will be slightly better with wind gusts up to 60 mph and relative humidity between 7% and 15%, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.

The gusty conditions could lead to delays at airports in the region.

Utility companies in the region are preparing for the wind event and warning residents power could be disrupted in an effort to prevent fires.

Track weather conditions in your area here.

Runway construction to cause delays at this Dallas airport tonight

Passengers flying out of Dallas Love Field airport in Texas will run into some delays on Wednesday evening.

The Federal Aviation Administration says departures will delayed an average of 25 minutes due to runway construction. The FAA said there will be a ground delay from 4 p.m. ET through nearly 10 p.m.

Additionally, the FAA said departures from Miami International in Florida are delayed an average of 30 minutes due to “many aircraft trying to taxi at once, creating congestion.”

You can check the status of your flight with FlightAware here.

Here's how Thanksgiving hosts can be careful with guests traveling from around the US as Covid-19 cases rise

Americans are traveling for Thanksgiving across the country as United States sees Covid-19 cases rising in more than half the states. Two-in-three people say they will celebrate with friends or family outside their immediate households, and about half of those say their gatherings may include unvaccinated people, according to an Axios/Ipsos poll.

So how can hosts be careful with guests traveling from around the country and gathering at the table?

In most situations, it’s OK to come together for the holiday in a careful manner, he adds. “It’s been a long time. And we need to celebrate and be thankful for where we are with the pandemic.”

Here’s what Kimberlin recommends:

If all household members and guests are vaccinated and your locality does not have high transmission rate, “you can gather inside without masks and be very confident that everyone will be safe,” he said.
However, if you’re in a high-transmission area and members of your household are not vaccinated, it’s a risky situation.
“In that kind of a scenario, you may want — out of an abundance of caution — to have people be tested before they come into the house. And make sure that, in fact, they are negative using the rapid tests that are pretty widely available.”

Colorado officials urge travelers to be careful in mountain snow

An airport in Colorado is reporting a delay on arrivals because of a low cloud ceiling as millions of people are expected to fly for the Thanksgiving holiday, the FAA said.

Here’s a look at where things stand as of 12 p.m. ET:

  • Arrivals to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport in Colorado are delayed an average of 30 minutes.
  • Departures from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport are delayed an average of 15 minutes.
  • Departures from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey are delayed an average of 30 minutes.

The regional National Weather Service in Grand Junction, Colorado, which covers the Aspen area, said it expects those clouds to decrease. It said in a tweet that a few snow showers are expected to linger over the mountains today.

The National Weather Service in Boulder, Colorado, already saw some of that snow this morning. It tweeted photos of road conditions, urging people to be careful if they are driving in the mountains.

See the tweet:

You can check the status of your flight with FlightAware here.

Looking for traffic details or cooking tips? We've got you covered on all things Thanksgiving

Travelers carry luggage as they arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport November 23, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. 

Stuck in the passenger’s seat on a road trip or at an airport? Looking for some tips on cooking a turkey? Need something to pass the time?

CNN has got you covered. We got all the Thanksgiving-related content you need to get through the holiday.

These 3 airports are reporting departure delays

As people start traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, some airports are reporting delays Wednesday morning, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

As of 11 a.m. ET, here is where things stand:

  • Departures from Chicago O’Hare International are delayed an average of 15 minutes.
  • Departures from Philadelphia International are delayed an average of 15 minutes.
  • Departures from Teterboro in New Jersey are delayed an average of 45 minutes.

Experts say you should arrive at the airport early to give yourself plenty of time to get through longer TSA lines and other travel checkpoints. For domestic travel, US travel organization AAA suggests 2 hours ahead of departure time and 3 hours for international.

You can check the status of your flight with FlightAware here.

Biden encourages Americans to give thanks as many travel for Thanksgiving gatherings

U.S. President Joe Biden walks to the West Wing from Marine One on the South Lawn off the White House on November 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.

President Biden issued a presidential proclamation today ahead of Thanksgiving Day tomorrow and acknowledged that for some Americans, it “will be the first time gathering with loved ones in person since the start of the pandemic.”

“I encourage the people of the United States of America to join together and give thanks for the friends, neighbors, family members, and strangers who have supported each other over the past year in a reflection of goodwill and unity,” Biden said.

He gave thanks for farm workers and frontline workers, for educators, for parents, for health care professionals, for researchers and scientists and for US troops.

“For the First Lady and me, Thanksgiving has always been a cherished time to enjoy annual traditions that have evolved into sacred rituals with our children and grandchildren: throwing the football, preparing family recipes, lighting candles, and setting the table. For many Americans, this Thanksgiving will be the first time gathering with loved ones in person since the start of the pandemic — a time of full tables and full hearts,” Biden said.

He continued, “As we celebrate, we will also be thinking of the many families feeling the pain of an empty chair at the Thanksgiving table. You are not alone, and our Nation stands with you.”

Travelers expected to head to beaches and big cities this Thanksgiving, AAA says

The sun rises above 42nd Street during a reverse 'Manhattanhenge' in New York, New York photographed from Weehawken, New Jersey on November 24, 2021. 

As the United States starts to open up and relax Covid-19 restrictions, people are heading to beaches and big cities for the Thanksgiving holiday.

AAA booking data shows big cities and tropical destinations are topping travelers’ list both domestically and abroad.

Here is a look at the top destinations in the US:

  • New York, New York
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Anaheim, California
  • Orlando, Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
  • Honolulu and Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

International bookings show the same trend, according to AAA.

Travelers are expected to set off to places like Cancun, Mexico; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Aruba, Aruba; Los Cabos, Mexico and Nassau, Bahamas.

These are the best and worst times to drive this Thanksgiving

Traffic travels northbound along I-95 on November 23, 2021 in Lorton, Virginia. 

More people are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, according to US travel organization AAA, which means millions of people will be on the roads.

But, experts say the best way to avoid a traffic jam is to be proactive about your travel plans. If you are traveling on Wednesday, the best time to get on the road is after 9 p.m. and the worst time is between noon and 8 p.m., according to INRIX, in collaboration with AAA.

If you are traveling on Thanksgiving, experts say get an early start. The best times to travel on Thursday and Friday is before 11 a.m. with the worst times being in the afternoon.

If you are driving, make sure to check your car before your trip. AAA said it expects to respond to more than 400,000 calls for help over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

If your vehicle has been sitting idle, experts recommend getting an inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, breaks and fluid levels. These are the parts of your vehicle that can deteriorate if they sit for too long without proper care, AAA said.

Thanksgiving gas prices are the highest since 2012

A customer pumps gas into her vehicle at a gas station on November 22, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

Drivers hitting the road this Thanksgiving will be greeted by the highest prices at the pump in nearly a decade. 

The average prices consumers paid for regular gasoline stood at $3.40 a gallon on Monday, according to a new report from the government. That’s the highest price on the Monday before Thanksgiving since 2012, the US Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. 

This year’s pre-Thanksgiving gas price is 62% above the same point last year, although far fewer Americans were traveling then because of Covid concerns. More than 48 million people are expected to travel by road for Thanksgiving this year, 8% higher than a year ago, according to AAA

Still, gas prices are 32% higher than at the same point in 2019, before the eruption of the pandemic. 

Gas prices spiked in October by $1.13 a gallon, the biggest year-over-year increase since the EIA started collecting these numbers in 1990. 

All of this explains why President Biden launched an international intervention into energy markets on Tuesday. Biden pledged to release 50 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the largest such release in US history, and other nations including China, Japan and India committed to releasing reserves as well. 

Rumors of the SPR release have already helped to cool off gas prices, which have leveled out over the past week or so. However, analysts are skeptical the intervention will live up to the hype by dramatically lowering gas prices. Even Biden conceded it won’t solve the problem of high gas prices overnight.  

Drivers on the West Coast face the highest gas prices, averaging about $4.19 a gallon, according to the EIA. The cheapest retail prices are found along the Gulf Coast, where the average stands just above $3 a gallon. 

If you're traveling with someone who's not vaccinated, here are some Covid-19 health considerations

Travelers walk through the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on November 21, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. 

While millions of Americans are now vaccinated against Covid-19, the pandemic isn’t over. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated.

For those traveling with unvaccinated people, the agency suggests safer options such as road trips with few stops and direct flights.

Traveling with children who are unvaccinated will be a consideration for many families.

“This risk is not so much the travel itself but what you do at the destination,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst, emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Trips involving visits to crowded indoor attractions and restaurants are higher risk.

“Travel itself can be made very safe, especially if the younger children are able to mask. If they’re unable to mask, that is a major barrier,” said Wen, who is also author of a new book, “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.”

If she were traveling only with her 4-year-old son, who is used to masking at preschool, Wen said she would feel very comfortable taking him on a short flight. However, she would not travel on a plane or train with her daughter who is 1 1/2, because she can’t consistently mask.

People should be wearing a high-quality mask — N95, KN95 or KF94 — anytime they’re in crowded indoor settings with people of unknown vaccination status, she said.

Holiday travelers likely to see mostly "tranquil" weather across the US

About two-thirds of the country should be truly thankful for the weather this holiday season as Thanksgiving travel picks back up to pre-pandemic levels.

“A relatively tranquil stretch of weather persists in the final days leading up to Thanksgiving,” said the Weather Prediction Center (WPC).

It only takes a run-of-the mill rain shower or wind gust to push travel delays from a couple of minutes to hours the day before Thanksgiving. The good news is, we don’t expect much weather to impact the country Wednesday. Thursday looks like more of a soaker for some and those pesky winds and cold air return to the Northeast on Friday into Saturday.

No matter what, some delays will mount on the roadways and in airports, just due to the extra volume.

“With Thanksgiving just a couple days away, Mother Nature is providing a suitable weather pattern for travelers across the vast majority of the US mainland through Wednesday night,” the WPC said Tuesday.

In the Northeast, winds have been the story the week leading up to Thanksgiving. The good news is those should subside in the Northeast on Wednesday.

Some wind gusts from Dallas to Chicago could cause some issues, but delays shouldn’t be major. Winds in some areas could gust up to 40 mph.

In Southern California, the Santa Ana winds begin to pick up through the day Wednesday. Winds are likely to gust from 30 to 60 mph. This could prove to add some delays at airports but will become more problematic on Thanksgiving.

The Intermountain West could see some snow showers Wednesday, making the perfect arrival for anyone hitting the ski slopes for Thanksgiving. Right now, there is a 20% chance that this snow makes it down into Denver.

In the Northwest, residents will get a slight break Wednesday from the onslaught of Pacific storms they have endured over the last few weeks.

But rain will be in the picture Wednesday evening. This next storm system will be a bit warmer, increasing the flood threat in the river valley below.

Track the weather here.

Hitting the road today? Here are some AAA tips for driving.

Traffic travels along I-395 on November 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. on November 24, 2021.

The Covid-19 pandemic kept many Americans home on Thanksgiving 2020, with many opting for virtual gatherings over the real thing.

But with so many people vaccinated this year, AAA spokesperson Andrew Gross is expecting roads to feel like a typical Thanksgiving: “Crowded. Busy.”

“If you leave Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving and you live near a big metropolitan area, you’re going to be sitting in that old-fashioned traffic again,” Gross said.

Average gas prices are about $1.30 higher than last year. “But as we’ve always discovered, no matter how much gasoline prices are, people are still going to take that trip. They’ll just budget along the way,” Gross said.

Here are some AAA tips for driving:

  • Make sure your vehicle is ready. AAA suggests getting key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels checked
  • Mornings over the holiday weekend are generally better times to drive. Wednesday’s best time is after 9 p.m., according to transportation analytics firm INRIX. Wednesday’s worst time is between noon and 8 p.m.

Thanksgiving travel will look more like 2019 than 2020 this year

Travelers move to a security check point at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.

Traveling for Thanksgiving this year is going to look way more like 2019 than our first pandemic holiday season: crowded.

On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more air travelers in a single day than on any day since the start of the pandemic.

“JUST IN: @TSA officers screened 2,242,956 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide yesterday, Friday, Nov. 19. It’s the highest checkpoint volume since passenger volume tanked in early 2020 as a result of the pandemic,” TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein tweeted Saturday. “The Thanksgiving travel period has begun! #MaskUp”

US travel organization AAA predicts Thanksgiving travel overall will rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, with 53.4 million Americans expected to travel for the holiday — a 13% increase from last year.

That brings the total travel volume to just 5% below AAA’s 2019 figure. And air travel is expected to be up 80% from last year, bringing it to just 9% below 2019. About 4.2 million travelers are expected to fly this year.

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