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AAA is forecasting the busiest Thanksgiving travel season for Floridians since 2005

Tampa International Airport is preparing to see 75,000 to 80,000 passengers on peak days, with higher numbers than before the pandemic in 2019.

With the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror for the time being, Floridians are in a visiting mood for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

AAA forecasts more than 2.9 million Floridians will travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving. That’s 50,000 (2%) more than last year’s holiday and nearly 22,000 (0.74%) more than 2019.

Nationally, AAA expects 54.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving, which is slightly below pre-pandemic levels, but the Florida Thanksgiving travel season is expected to be the busiest since 2005.

“Travel is still roaring back from the pandemic,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA-The Auto Club Group. “While gas prices and other inflationary pressures weigh on budgets, travel remains a top priority for Americans, particularly during the holidays. Travel spending is at the highest level since the pandemic began, which is a driving force behind our projections this year. AAA expects busy roads and long lines at the airport, so leave early and be flexible with your travel plans.”

The Thanksgiving travel period is defined as Wednesday through Thursday.

About 89% of all Thanksgiving travelers will drive. AAA forecasts 48.65 million Americans will set out for a holiday road trip. That’s 203,000 more drivers than last year.

In Florida, 2.7 million (91% of travelers) will take a road trip; an increase of 28,000 people from last year’s holiday.

A recent decrease in gas prices won’t hurt. Pump prices have dropped 10 cents per gallon over the past week and was at $3.46 a gallon on Sunday. That's still 10 cents per gallon more than what Thanksgiving travelers paid last year. The most expensive Thanksgiving gas price on record was $3.46 per gallon in 2013.

While transportation analysts warn of road congestion over the holiday, airports will also feel the crush. Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for air travel.

Tampa International Airport is preparing to see 75,000 to 80,000 passengers on peak days, with higher numbers than before the pandemic in 2019.

Overall, the airport expects an average of about 70,000 passengers a day from Nov. 18-29, up from the daily average of about 55,000 in recent months.

Orlando International Airport said it could welcome 1.75 million passengers during that same 12-day period, a 10 percent increase over last year and the same as during a record 2019 Thanksgiving holiday.

Officials at both airports said travelers should expect flight delays and for parking garages to fill up quickly.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is brutal for airport crowds. For every 100 people who flew on Thanksgiving Day 2021, there were 177 people flying out on the Sunday after, according to the federal Transportation Security Administration.

That same Sunday was the year’s busiest airport travel day in both 2019 and 2021 . In 2020, the busiest days were largely concentrated in January and February, before the widespread impact of COVID-19, which would reduce holiday travel later in the year.

Information from WMFE’s Danielle Prieur and the Associated Press was used in this report.