Karla Hoefgen beat the Thanksgiving rush.
She and her husband, who live in Eau Claire, Wis., took advantage of their flexible schedules as retirees and arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Thursday for their flight to San Francisco to see their daughter for the holiday.
"I can get through security and get a cup of coffee," she said that morning, when waits for printed boarding passes and TSA screenings were only five to 10 minutes.
But for everyone else traveling for the holiday: buckle up. The airways and roadways will be congested as a record number of travelers are expected to head out for Turkey Day this year starting Friday and stretching through Tuesday, Nov. 28, as remote work has extended the holiday period for many.
"We may see the busiest travel day in the history of aviation," Sun Country Airlines Chief Operating Officer Greg Mays said.
U.S. airlines are expecting an all-time high of nearly 30 million travelers through the 11-day Thanksgiving travel period from Friday through Monday, Nov. 27, according to industry group Airlines for America. That's 9% more passengers than in 2022.
That means longer security lines for many, as TSA anticipates a record holiday season and with MSP experiencing some of its busiest days since the pandemic for security checkpoints.
Even more drivers will be hitting the road for trips of more than 50 miles, according to AAA. The number of drivers will also near 2019 levels of around 50 million. Meanwhile, gas prices have shifted downward in Minnesota to an average of $3.19 per gallon Thursday from $3.56 at this time last year.
INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, expects Wednesday to be the busiest day on the roads nationwide and recommended leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest traffic, AAA reported. On the positive side, Mother Nature shouldn't deliver any nasty weather surprises in the region.
Mays preached the usual air travel advice: check in before heading to the airport, make sure to bring an ID and arrive three hours before departure.
"Long lines are going to be part of the travel season. It's just going to be that way," Mays said. "Getting there early will help reduce the stress."
Plan as much as possible in advance. Other carriers advised arriving two hours early for domestic departures. For those picking up family and friends, the Metropolitan Airports Commission added a new East Cell Phone Waiting Lot on the south side of Post Road with 100 vehicle spaces less than a quarter-mile from the original 40-space lot.
Nationwide, Airlines for America predicted the Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 26) to be the busiest day of the holiday period, with a record-setting 3.2 million passengers. Wednesday (Nov. 22), Monday (Nov. 27) and Friday (Nov. 17) follow as the next busiest.
The heaviest day for Minneapolis-based leisure carrier Sun Country is Wednesday, Nov. 22, with 19,000 passengers flying system-wide. Sunday, Nov. 26, will be the next busiest. The top destinations from MSP are Las Vegas, Fort Myers, Fla., Phoenix, Orlando, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, with warmer weather a draw in addition to visiting family and friends.
Growing Sun Country is offering increased capacity nationwide, almost doubling trips to some destinations. Departures to Florida, for example, rose 29% compared with last year. There's 51 total destinations from MSP this year compared to 37 cities last year.
"We expect we'll break some passenger records throughout the holiday season," Mays said.
As travelers blend work and vacation time, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines expects its peak travel days to be the Friday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving.
Delta, the dominant carrier at MSP, anticipates 6.2 million to 6.4 million customers this Thanksgiving period between Friday and Tuesday, Nov. 28. This is a jump from last year and might surpass the 6.25 million travelers in 2019.
Professional services firm Deloitte's 2023 Holiday Travel Study predicted nearly half of Americans intend to travel between Thanksgiving and mid-January. It also showed spending on travel has risen year-over-year, with an average budget being $2,725.
While more Americans are planning to travel, they will take fewer trips at just under two this holiday season. And those will likely be shorter in duration. A sizable number of remote workers — 34% — said they are likely to work during their longest trips of the holiday season.
Travel agent Monique Delph saw many potential travelers choose not to book flights for Thanksgiving in favor of saving for Christmas trips or winter getaways to Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
"I believe, due to the economy, people are making choices for one single trip," said Delph, an A1 Travel consultant in Edina.
At Sun Country, Mays said, "I don't necessarily see that. We see our planes are full."