Travel tips as Chicago's Midway, O'Hare airports expected to be busy ahead of Thanksgiving 2021

AAA says over 48 million people also plan to drive to their Thanksgiving destination
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Whether it's by bus, train car or plane, Americans are on the move this holiday season.

Tuesday is expected to be the busiest day at the airports for people leaving for their Thanksgiving dinners.

After staying home last year, many are preparing for a more traditional celebration this year. This year marks the highest single-year travel increase during Thanksgiving since 2005, bringing the U.S. close to pre-pandemic numbers.

Expect airports to be much more crowded as millions prepare to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday.

"So far everything is flowing very well. We've had no problems, no glitches, and they had extra support for the TAS today so that's what we counted on," traveler Bonnie Marker said.

Over one million people are expected to pass through O'Hare this week.

"So it's going to be about twice as busy as it was in 2020, pretty close to where we were in 2019 for Thanksgiving," said Adit Damadaran with Hopper.

United Airlines said it's ready for the influx of crowds expected.

"We are expecting 440,000 people today and over 450,000 next Sunday, which is about 88% of what we flew pre-pandemic, so we are really happy with the folks that are coming back flying on us," said Omar Idris, vice president of United Hub at O'Hare. "United Airlines and our whole team at O'Hare have been waiting for this week, we're prepared, we're trained, we've got people added to staff. It's a big improvement from last Thanksgiving,"

The good vibes - so far - are being shared by passengers feeling good about their head start Tuesday.

"It has been pretty smooth sailing so far. The most congestion I have seen today is getting into the airport," said Dylan Kazanova, who is traveling back to Texas for the holiday.

"The flow through the way they are able to help you, assist you -- it is there for you and totally makes a difference," added Brenda Love, who is traveling from Dallas to Chicago.

For the Mathia family, from Chicago, there's gratitude for this chance to visit grandparents,

The good vibes - so far - are being shared by passengers feeling good about their head start Tuesday.

"It has been pretty smooth sailing so far. The most congestion I have seen today is getting into the airport," said Dylan Kazanova, who is traveling back to Texas for the holiday.

"The flow through the way they are able to help you, assist you -- it is there for you and totally makes a difference," added Brenda Love, who is traveling from Dallas to Chicago.

For the Mathia family, from Chicago, there's gratitude for this chance to visit grandparents,

"How cool is it to be able to get away at Thanksgiving and be able to have such a substantial trip like that," said 14-year-old Grace Mathai from Northside College Prep. "You know, we haven't been able to do it the past two years for Thanksgiving and it was just such a blessing to be able to do it this year, so we have something to be grateful for."

"How cool is it to be able to get away at Thanksgiving and be able to have such a substantial trip like that," said 14-year-old Grace Mathai from Northside College Prep. "You know, we haven't been able to do it the past two years for Thanksgiving and it was just such a blessing to be able to do it this year, so we have something to be grateful for."

So, if you're one of those taking a trip over Thanksgiving, here are some tips to help you get through it.

First, don't wait until the day of your flight to see if your trip is on schedule.

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"Check your flight status online early days ahead of time. That's very often when these cancellations do happen. They do happen one, two or three days in advance, and you'd much rather find out about them from the comfort of your own home than in the airport," said Willis Orlando with Scott's Cheap Flights.

If you need a rental car and you haven't booked one yet, do it now.

"We're expecting rental car prices to be very high over the holiday weekend at around $80 a day. And availability could also be a concern here. So if you haven't booked your car, you want to make sure that you have that reserved before you depart for Thanksgiving," Damadaran said.

If your flight does get canceled or significantly delayed, you're entitled to a cash refund under federal law. But you could also negotiate for a different trip.

"If you go into this situation and say 'hey listen, I know I'm entitled to a refund but instead of this refund, I'd rather be rebooked on this itinerary that I found,' nine times out of 10 the airline agents are going to comply," Orlando said.

Finally, if you still want to travel for Thanksgiving but you haven't booked yet, experts say keep an eye out for some last-minute deals to short-haul international destinations.

"That's because there's no demand for international flights for Thanksgiving. If you love your family, but you love a beach and a margarita a little bit more -- hey, you might have a good deal waiting for you," Orlando said.

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Driving somewhere for Thanksgiving? Prepare to pay at the pump.



If you are traveling by air, the busiest day at both O'Hare and Midway will be this Sunday, so plan accordingly.

"Being able to do it now, it's a lot of fun and it feels, obviously, a lot safer with vaccine mandates and masks; and we feel that there is a much better handle on the pandemic situation," said Sam Peters.

Many are also trying to save by spending less time on the road, which is a difficult proposition as the holiday season approaches and with it the temptation to make up for the lost celebrations of last year.

Just 32%of Americans plan to drive for Thanksgiving, down from 35% last year at the height of the pandemic, and 65% in 2019, according to a survey from the fuel savings platform GasBuddy.

TripIt analyzed U.S. origin lodging, rental car, and flight reservations made by our TripIt users for Thanksgiving travel and compared the findings to equivalent booking periods in 2020 and 2019.

The data shows Thanksgiving 2021 travel will be nearly triple the volume of last year across most categories, and while still not quite at pre-pandemic levels, flight (52% vs. 2019), lodging (65% vs. 2019), and vacation rental (59% vs. 2019) volumes are at the highest rates we've seen for holiday travel this year.

"This is the first time people are hitting the roads to get out there, so it would make sense that the prices are going to go up a little," said John Turak.

AAA said over 48 million people plan to drive to their Thanksgiving destination. And with high gas prices creating a major pain at the pump, some people are being strategic with how they plan.

"I fill once a week, Wednesday or Thursday, and I try to minimize my trips as much as possible," commuter Raj Singla said.

At Lake Forest Oasis, the Gassman's are in-between visits to see their son in Milwaukee

"Went down to see some friends in Elkhart, Indiana and we're heading back up to Milwaukee for Thanksgiving," Pete Gassman said.

"It means, a lot because we were home alone last Thanksgiving and Christmas," added Kathy Gassman.

But help is on the way.

Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden is set to announce details of his action to release 50 million barrels of oil from the petroleum reserve to help lower high gas prices.

"It will take time, but before long you should see the price of gas drop where you fill up your tank," the president said.

However, not before Thanksgiving.

In the Chicago area, the average price of regular unleaded is $3.57 a gallon. Compared to Thanksgiving week last year when it was $2.17 a gallon, it's an increase of a $0.40.

That means a 600 mile Thanksgiving roadtrip from Chicago to St. Louis and back, at an average 25-miles a gallon, will cost $33.60 more this year.

That's the money for your Thanksgiving turkey and some trimmings going straight into your gas tank.

"You're not overspending at the grocery store because you've got to go get gas for the car, and you know, everything kind of has to be looked at a little different right now," said holiday traveler Brittany Morel.

But what about after Thanksgiving?

"We should see some downdrafts at the pump just in time for, say, potentially Christmas," said Patrick De Haan with Gasbuddy.com. "But prices are still going to be well into that $3 a gallon territory, where it's quite uncomfortable."
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