Holiday travel season is upon us. Here are some tips for a smoother trip

Traffic on the roads and lines at airports and transit stations are expected to be much worse than they were a year ago. Here’s what travelers need to know.

Philadelphia International Airport. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia International Airport. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Thousands of people across the Philadelphia region will be taking to the roads, rails, and skies over the next week for the Thanksgiving holiday. That means traffic on the roads and lines at airports and transit stations are expected to be much worse than they were a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic kept some people closer to home.

Philadelphia International Airport spokesperson Heather Redfern said they expect about 848,000 people through their doors over the holiday weekend, and are asking travelers to arrive early, since there have been many changes to the facility since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because this is the biggest travel period since the start of the pandemic and we have a lot of people who haven’t flown in a while, we’re asking people to arrive at least three hours before their flights,” said Redfern.

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Travelers driving to PHL should also plan ahead when it comes to parking, following the airport’s decision to keep its economy lot closed.

“Our onsite garages will be filled to capacity,” said Redfern. “We’re asking people to make reservations for offsite parking now. Make alternate plans. Take SEPTA regional rail. Get a friend or family member to drop you off, rideshare, taxis, and limos. But if you must drive, then you’ll need to leave even more time to try to find a spot in the parking garage, or if you can’t find a spot, then make an alternate plan on the spot.”

Redfern said they are still anticipating a 20% decline in travel compared to the peak in 2019, but both airport and TSA changes can be confusing to people who haven’t flown in a year or more.

“Change is a challenge. And when you’re used to a routine and kind of go into autopilot, it can be stressful to have that routine interrupted,” she said. “So we’re asking people now to do your homework for any part of your travels before you get to the airport.”

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She also encouraged passengers to check in for their flights online to make their trips smoother.

Jana Tidwell with AAA Mid-Atlantic said they predict many people will forgo air travel and hit the highways for a holiday with family and friends.

“This Thanksgiving is going to look a lot different than last year. We’re talking pre-pandemic travel volume this year and that is going to translate to congestion on the roadways,” Tidwell said.

AAA estimates 53 million people will travel over the holiday period, and 90% of them will opt for a driving trip, so that means 48 million Americans flooding the nation’s highways.

Tidwell suggests staggering travel to avoid the jams.

“If you can travel during off peak times, if you have that flexibility, do so. Leave earlier in the morning, later in the evening — that will definitely cut down on your travel time,” she said. “It will also save you some gas along the way.”

Another tip: leave on Thanksgiving morning, which will be much calmer, trafficwise, than the night before.

With people kept inside because of the pandemic, Tidwell also suggested making sure your vehicle is ready to make an extended trip.

“Many people have not performed routine maintenance on their vehicles the way they typically would. This is kind of the unintended consequences of the COVID pandemic. We weren’t driving the way we typically do. We were out of our routine. We were out of the vehicle maintenance routine,” she said. “So if you’re planning to travel by car for Thanksgiving and also if you’re planning ahead for winter driving, now’s the time to make that appointment to have your vehicle assessed. Take care of routine maintenance in the long run that will likely save you more expensive repair bills down the road.”

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