Thanksgiving travelers set pandemic record with more than 2.3 million in the air, TSA says

Thousands of passengers faced cancellations due to pre-emptive shut down, while million visited during the travel shift from vacation

Thanksgiving travelers set pandemic record with more than 2.3 million in the air, TSA says

More than 2.3 million people flew to the United States from abroad during the week before Thanksgiving, setting a record for the holiday travel shift, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

The spike is likely due to a hard freeze in Canada, which pulled more passengers than usual north, said TSA spokesman Michael Bilello.

Before the second of two cold snaps that invaded Canada in early August, roughly 350,000 people were flying each weekday in the run-up to Thanksgiving. But from 1 September to 10 September there were nearly 600,000 passengers per weekday.

The heavy exodus of travellers will likely mean airports will again need to scramble to add manpower, increase line speeds and expand screening activities to keep up with rising demand.

Lines can be long before the holiday with a mixture of winter travelers and vacationers seeking to catch a rare holiday break. This week the peak travel period occurred when some 3.9 million travellers were expected. That breakdown shows each day some 287,000 to 290,000 were expected to fly, plus an additional 40,000 to 50,000 to check luggage, leaving each airport with up to 20,000 people to screen.

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At the busiest Chicago O’Hare airport, the number of people at screening increased from 469,000 in the week ending 21 August to 481,000 the week before Thanksgiving, according to the TSA.

Once travellers reach their destinations, where the peak period started and ended are unknown, but the Thanksgiving arrival time at many airports this year is from 3pm to 7pm ET. Many peak days start the morning of the day of the holiday, such as Thursday, and end before the last flight lands at the airport.

Bilello estimates that the number of travelers who will be screened this weekend, either on Saturday or Sunday, will be about the same or up to 1 million.

A single unscreened carry-on bag can generate TSA charges that can reach $100 if it’s considered a security risk, although that figure is usually reached when a bag has everything it should and is illegal. The shipping company can also pass on the charge to the shipping address and sometimes an extra security fee for ground transportation to avoid paying a half-hour US immigration screening process on the spot.

Others are frustrated by the extensive security lines. Deborah Cotton-Campbell and her sister Linda Bunker were returning to Portland, Oregon from Los Angeles last week. They waited more than two hours for security because there were so many travelers. This time, Candy Chadwick was behind them and was waiting more than two hours too.

“We have lost track of the days,” Cotton-Campbell said. “We should have known better.”

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