Thanksgiving travelers pack Chicago roads, airports Wednesday

Air travel not the only way to get around this holiday week

Thursday, November 23, 2023
Chicago-area residents celebrate Thanksgiving Eve on busy travel day
Chicago-area residents were celebrating Thanksgiving Eve on the busy travel day.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- With Thanksgiving only a day away, Wednesday was one of the busiest travel days of the year.

The Bashaw family from Milwaukee made a pit stop at the South Holland Oasis on their drive to Michigan for the holiday. With their car packed up, they chose to hit the road early.

"We were planning to get up much earlier but kind of rolled out of bed a little later than we expected -- just to try to miss Chicago traffic," Melissa Bashaw said.

"So far so good, you know," John Bashaw said. "It hasn't been bad getting through Chicago, so coming from Milwaukee no bad traffic, so that's a good sign."

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The American Automobile Association warned Wednesday would be busy on the roads, and predicted all area expressways would be jammed from 2 to 6 p.m..

"Actually today is the most popular day to drive," AAA spokesperson Molly Hart said. "Here in Illinois, we have 2.8 million people traveling for Thanksgiving that's 60,000 more than last year."

The good news is prices are down at the pump from last year.

In Chicago, the average price of regular gas this week is $3.53 a gallon. That's compared to $4.08 last Thanksgiving, it's a savings of $0.55 cents.

"It's not a bad time to hit the road," Patrick De Haan of Gas Buddy said. "Gas prices nationally have fallen for nine straight weeks. That's the longest streak we've seen since the summer of 2022 when we were talking about prices hitting all time record highs."

Millions are choosing to fly instead. Both airports expected high traffic volume Wednesday, but aviation officials said the busiest day to fly will be this Sunday.

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Meanwhile, Taylor Burgin opted for the roads. He's driving his family from Iowa to Pittsburgh.

"I've got a pregnant wife, a dog and two toddlers, so just trying to get an early start," Burgin said. "It's about a 12-hour trip all said and done."

AAA said the best time to leave was before 11 a.m., with later Wednesday afternoon expecting heavier traffic.

The voyage home, for many, took all day, with bus depots and rail stations packed, and area expressways jammed with vehicles.

But at Chicago's airports, no major problems were reported.

"It's the holidays, and I thought it would be a little more hectic and crazy, but it went well," Robert Latham said.

Some were enjoying the warmth of Christmas on this Thanksgiving Eve.

In suburban Mount Prospect, the village Christmas Tree was illuminated.

At Christkindlmarket in the Loop, there was a toast to the meaning of Thanksgiving.

"Of course, family first and foremost and also friends, just coming together and being grateful for what we have," Christine Wong said.

And come together many will, and not just over turkey. In the morning, thousands will be racing in turkey trots, including on the North Side.

And at 8:45 a.m., the annual Thanksgiving Day parade steps off on State Street from Ida B. Wells Drive, north to Randolph Street.

"It's so big and grand, and we're so excited to like run around and see different parades and also spend time with family," Netta Walker said.

Those coming to the parade are urged to take the CTA. Organizers said typically the crowds are smaller on the southern end of the parade route, closer to Ida B. Wells.