'Worse than before pandemic': Holiday travel rush underway as many gather for Thanksgiving

Holiday air travel prices higher than usual, study finds

ByLeah Hope and Tre Ward WLS logo
Monday, November 22, 2021
Holiday travel rush underway as many gather for Thanksgiving
Pent up demand to travel, coupled with more people vaccinated, means more will be traveling in some form -- especially on the roads.

FLOSSMOOR, Ill. (WLS) -- The holiday travel rush is already underway with the crowd picking up at Chicago's O'Hare airport.

"Gets the family together, said traveler Collin Wanek.

"[I] get to see everyone. All my old friends from high school," added Collin Wanek, who is traveling from Wisconsin.

The airport's "people mover" is now back in action for the holidays, helping with the wave of travelers after being shut down for years.

With the holiday rush picking up at the airport, TSA officials are expecting to screen about 20 million travelers until at least next Sunday.

This, after TSA screened more than 2.2 million travelers Friday only -- its highest number since the beginning of the pandemic.

"You got to be on time. You know, you got to be a little bit early," said Pablo Fields on his way to Georgia.

People, like the father of Bears' quarterback Justin Fields, who are preparing for a busy week in the sky, say they're packing their patience.

"Prepare your nerves, and prepare your feelings and egos, and everything else for any delays you may have," he added.

"Make sure that you're organized and prepared for it to be more busy than normal, for sure," Wanek said.

For those traveling by air, it's likely to cost more, especially for a Sunday return.

"With business travel down and pleasure travel up, it's those weekends that air travel is really getting expensive; so if you can, avoid the weekend," said Joe Schwieterman, Chaddick Institute director at DePaul University.

Schwieterman said their holiday travel study found for the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the median airfare was one-way was $80 higher than a typical day this month. However, bus and train fares are substantially lower than on the Wednesday before.

Schwieterman said the pent-up demand to travel, coupled with more people vaccinated, means more will be traveling in some form -- especially on the roads.

"I expect traffic it to be worse than before pandemic, especially on those evenings before the holiday and Sunday night coming back," Schwieterman said.

"The way people are driving, they lost their minds during the pandemic. I think it's safer right now staying put," said Rob Calhoon, whose family plans to skip their eight-hour drive to Minnesota to see some older relatives.

"I thought it would be nice to see them but they are in kind of a hot spot now and they are vulnerable; and even though everybody is vaccinated, I feel like going into the winter season, it would be good to play it safe," added Alanna Cotch.

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Rochelle Mathews did a pre-Thanksgiving with family and will do some December leisure air travel, but to choose to not get on a plane during Thanksgiving weekend.

"Some people are vaccinated and some are not, so that many people together is and it's probably going to cause some problems, so I'd just rather be safe," Mathews said.

The Chaddick study found many of Amtrak routes were sold out for Thanksgiving, so it may be too late to make those reservations for next week by train. As for the good news, car rentals were significantly down compared to Memorial Day.