With Thanksgiving travel up, crowds expected on roads and at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport
It’s going to be crowded on the roads, at the airports, and on the rails, too.
More than 54.3 million people nationwide will be making a trip of 50 miles or more during the Thanksgiving holiday period from Wednesday to Sunday, according to AAA and INRIX, a global transportation analytics company. That’s 2.5 million more travelers than last year and the most since 2005.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” said Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based INRIX.
To beat the travel holiday rush, Adam Markovich and his wife, Amber, of Maple Grove, and two young children, boarded a flight for Indianapolis on Tuesday morning when it was still calm at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“It’s easier with these guys” to leave early, Adam said, referring to his children, Avery and Luke. “And we get an extra day out there.”
As passengers brace for full flights, motorists can also expect lots of company on the roads. A majority of travelers — 48.5 million — will get to their destination by car.
In the Twin Cities, the worst time to embark on holiday travel will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday, according to data crunched by Google Maps. The best days to drive are Thanksgiving Day and Saturday and Sunday mornings, the tech firm said.
Weather is not expected pose many travel problems in the Midwest, where there are no major snowstorms in sight. Temperatures across Minnesota will rise above freezing by Thanksgiving Day.
“We’re normally getting into a stormy winter pattern [around Thanksgiving],” said Bill Borghoff, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. “It’s looking like a pretty good week.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be some challenges.
Motorists could encounter slowdowns on Interstate 35W at the Interstate 94 interchange in Minneapolis, where a massive road construction project runs until 2021. There are also work zones on I-35W through Blaine and Lino Lakes.
Charlie Zelle, the state’s transportation commissioner, advised drivers to be aware of road conditions, leave early and allow extra time.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times of the year and knowing where travel might be delayed or congested will help make the trip safer and less stressful,” he said.
Drivers can be thankful for cheaper gas prices, which have fallen about 7 cents in the past week. The national average on Monday was $2.62 a gallon compared with $2.57 in the Twin Cities.
“Thanksgiving will find pump prices similar to last year,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson.
AAA Minneapolis expects to field more than 3,900 calls from drivers who need help with everything from flat tires to dead batteries to key locked in the car, said spokeswoman Meredith Terpstra.
Busy at the airport
Things were looking good at the airport Tuesday morning for Frank Salomonsen and his wife, Beverly. Lines at the bag drop and security were moving swiftly when the couple from Rochester, Minn., checked in for their flight to Montana.
“We wanted to beat the rush,” he said, expecting lines to be longer than they were. “That was a concern.”
On Wednesday, the Transportation Security Administration will pay screeners at MSP overtime to help keep lines moving on what is expected to be the busiest day of the holiday weekend.
The airport expects 44,000 to 48,000 passengers will pass through security checkpoints on Wednesday, said spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski. Sunday will be busy, too. Thursday is the best day to fly when lines will be shortest.
“It’s not everyday traffic coming through the checkpoints,” she said, noting the normal daily average is between 35,000 and 37,000 passengers. “It will be like Spring Break or MEA.”
Travelers may also notice more activity than usual on the upper roadway outside Terminal 1 around 3:30 p.m. when airport workers are planning to rally to demand a pay boost to $15 an hour.
Lower fares are helping fuel a 5.4 percent growth in Thanksgiving air travel compared with last year. During the first six months of 2018, average ticket prices fell to $360. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a decline of more than 5 percent year-over-year and more than 7 percent since 2010, according to the trade group Airlines 4 America.
Airlines have also added 158,000 more seats nationwide per day to accommodate an estimated 2.55 million daily passengers in late November. There are 2.94 million seats available daily, Airlines 4 America said.
Trains and buses adjust
For those using other travel modes, Amtrak said it is preparing for the surge of holiday travelers with extra trains and capacity on several routes.
In the Twin Cities area, Metro Transit and the suburban transit providers, including Maple Grove Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, Plymouth Metrolink and SouthWest Transit will run fewer buses on Black Friday, but weekend fares will be charged on most routes.
“Due to decreased demand on the day after Thanksgiving, Metro Transit and regional transit providers will reduce service on Friday,” a statement from Metro Transit said.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768