Whether you’re traveling by car or plane, you’re likely to encounter a record crowd over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The AAA auto club predicts the second-most holiday travel in Florida since 2005, with about 87,000 more people than last year.
“Travel demand has been strong all year, and that trend will continue with one of the busiest Thanksgivings on record,” Debbie Haas, AAA Auto Club Group travel vice president, said in a news release. “With more people taking to the roads, skies, rails and sea, travelers should expect congested roads and longer lines at transportation terminals.”
Of the 3.03 million Floridians expected to travel this holiday, 2.77 million will drive, 1.7% more than Thanksgiving last year, AAA said. Just under 210,000 will fly, and just over 50,000 will use some other form of transportation.
The number of Floridians traveling by cruiseline, bus and train over Thanksgiving is up almost 9% over last year, AAA said.
Here’s what you can expect on the roads and at the airport.
On the roads
GAS PRICES: You won’t pay as much for gasoline this year. The average price for a gallon of regular is $3.29 nationally and even lower in Florida at $3.04. That 11 cents chepaer than a week ago.
The average is $2.97 per gallon in Duval County and $3 per gallon in Clay County. And it is just a few cents more per gallon in St. Johns and Nassau counties, AAA said.
Despite global tensions causing some concern in the oil market, AAA believes gas prices should remain low through the holiday season unless oil prices suddenly spike.
BUSIEST DAYS: Wednesday will be the busiest day on the roads, with average travel times as high as 80% longer than normal in some metro areas, according to INRIX, a transportation data company. So Florida drivers should be on the roads early as possible to avoid the heaviest holiday congestion.
“Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros,” INRIX transportation analyst Bob Pishue told AAA. You can use traffic apps, Department of Transportation notifications, and 511 services for real-time updates.
FREE RIDES: For those staying close to home, AAA will activate its free Tow to Go campaign in Florida and other states for impaired drivers and their vehicles.
The program will be active from 6 p.m. Wednesday through 6 a.m. Monday. Drivers can call for a AAA Auto Club Group tow truck to take them and their vehicle to a safe location within a 10-mile radius for free. The service is available to AAA members and nonmembers.
At the airport
AAA expects almost 210,000 Floridians to fly for Thanksgiving, almost 6% more than in 2022. It would be the second-highest air travel volume in 15 years.
Jacksonville International Airport officials anticipate a record-breaking number of travelers as well — more than 14,000 on the busiest travel days.
TSA UPGRADES: The airport finished work last week on a new Transportation Security Administration checkpoint and security upgrades to help ease congestion.
The airport’s assistant federal security director, Chris Baden, says the airport had been using six or seven security checkpoint lanes over the past year while construction and upgrades continued. Previously, the airport had eight TSA checkpoints; now it has nine
Baden said all nine lanes might not be open at all times, depending on how busy the airport is, but JIA has the capacity to have all lanes open.
All nine lanes have new security technology that helps TSA officers detect potential prohibited items more easily. The new technology is called computed tomography, and it basically takes 3-D images of people’s luggage. Previously agents had the ability to take only 2-D images.
BUSIEST DAYS: The busiest travel days are expected to be Wednesday, Sunday and Monday. Airport officials are encouraging passengers to get to the airport early. Michael Stewart, director of external affairs for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, said people generally should plan to get to the airport two hours before their flight.
“That may be slightly different if you have TSA PreCheck, or if you are getting dropped off at the airport, or if you’re not checking bags, but the rule of thumb we like to stay with is two hours,” Stewart said.
PARKING: Stewart warns that the busy travel week comes with the chance for parking headaches. You can keep up with the latest on parking garage closures in real time by checking the airport’s website, its messages on X (formerly known as Twitter) and on parking signs on your drive into the airport. You can also use the many off-site parking businesses along Airport Road if the garages are closed.
JIA will open a temporary third economy lot on Wednesday. The lot will charge a prepaid flat fee of $40 fee for the entire trip. It will be first come, first served.
For a list of travel tips before your flight, go to TSA.gov.
Lead image: A woman moves through one of the nine TSA checkpoints at Jacksonville International Airport l Steven Ponson, WJCT News 89.9