Thanksgiving Travel

Driving Top Choice for Thanksgiving Travelers in DC Area: AAA

A look at how D.C., Maryland and Virginia are traveling for Thanksgiving and the best times to leave

NBC Universal, Inc.

Thanksgiving travel usually means congested roads, mass delays and long lines at airports, but the pandemic has many Americans staying home.

New data from AAA shows that fewer people are traveling this Thanksgiving as health experts advise people to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic. AAA anticipates at least a 10% drop in holiday travel nationwide.

This is the largest one-year decrease for Thanksgiving travel since the recession began in 2008.

Early Wednesday morning, Reagan National Airport was a completely different scene than habitual flyers would expect the day before Thanksgiving.

Some passengers were getting dropped off before the sun rose, but it was "nothing like we're used to seeing on pretty much any holiday ever here," News4's Justin Finch said.

Despite the rising COVID-19 concerns, this Thanksgiving is expected to be the busiest travel time of the year. News4's Justin Finch checks in at Reagan National Airport the day before the holiday.

In D.C., Maryland and Virginia, at least 80% of people surveyed by AAA said they wouldn’t travel this holiday season. Roughly half of them said it was because of the pandemic.

Still, 1.2 million D.C. metro-area residents plan to travel for Thanksgiving. In D.C., 64% plan to drive, 26% plan to fly and 10% plan to travel by bus, train or other forms of transportation, AAA says.

Nationally, travel by automobile is projected to fall by 4.3%.

Over the weekend, the Transportation Security Administration processed over 3 million passengers nationwide. That’s a big drop from last year but shows many people are ready to take the risk.

AAA found that health concerns, unemployment and traveling restrictions are all factors impacting plans.

When's The Best Time to Leave?

Even with Thanksgiving travel down, you could encounter congestion on the roads. If you do plan to drive, leave outside of peak times to avoid traffic.

Weather-wise, expect rain between Wednesday night and Thursday at lunchtime. The heaviest rainfall is expected before about 8 a.m. Thursday, Storm Team4 says. Here's the full forecast.

INRIX and AAA predict the worst bottlenecks in our region could see congestion 30% above normal pandemic levels.

In 2019, approximately 55 million people left town over the Thanksgiving holiday. This year that number is expected to be down more than 10%, according to AAA.

The busiest corridor is expected to be I-95 South from the Springfield Interchange to Gordon Boulevard. The peak slow down is expected at 11:45 a.m. Friday, but it will likely add fewer than 15 minutes to your trip, INRIX and AAA said.

The Maryland Department of Transportation advises traveling before 6 a.m. and after 11 p.m. on Wednesday. On Thanksgiving Day and afterward, your best bet is to leave before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

The State Highway Administration has urged motorists to travel only for essential trips during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Maryland health officials and other state leaders have recommended residents stay "safer at home" to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

If you do plan on traveling to visit family this year, health officials say to wear a face covering, social distance as much as possible and wash your hands frequently.

You can make gatherings safer by staying outdoors or in well-ventilated areas. Here's more advice on mitigating risk during the holidays.

Contact Us