Nov 21, 2023 - News

Thanksgiving travel tips for the Seattle region

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Carve out some extra time for the journey this weekend, as the number of travelers on ferries, in airports and on the roads is expected to rival pre-pandemic figures.

Why it matters: With AAA projecting 55.4 million people traveling over the long weekend this year, it's wise to plan for delays whether traveling locally or beyond.

Plus: While the Puget Sound area appears to be in the clear, one weather system could bring heavy rain, strong winds and severe thunderstorms to the Midwest and Eastern U.S., adding to travelers' woes.

  • Another is expected to dive southward out of Canada, spreading snow across the Plains and Rockies and impacting air travel hubs like Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston and New Orleans, writes Axios' Jacob Knutson.

Driving the news: Among the 6.5 million people leaving the Pacific Northwest for other parts of the country, the majority are headed someplace warm, such as Florida, Southern California or Hawai'i, Lisa Anciaux, the director of travel products for AAA Washington, told Axios.

What they're saying: "This is the third-highest Thanksgiving forecast since 2000," said Anciaux, "so expect crowds, expect delays and prepare for them" by leaving extra time and bringing snacks, games and toys for kids.

By the numbers: About 11% more travelers than last year are expected at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport over the holiday this year, Port of Seattle spokesperson Perry Cooper told Axios, reaching the pre-pandemic record highs of 2019.

  • Cooper said the two busiest days are expected to be Wednesday — when 175,000 people are expected to travel through the airport — and Sunday, with 171,000.
  • On the roads, the heaviest congestion is expected on Interstate 90 eastbound on Wednesday and westbound on Sunday, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
  • Nearly 300,000 people are expected aboard Washington State Ferries between Wednesday and Sunday, according to the ferry system.

Be smart: Airport travelers may have to maneuver around construction at the north end of the main terminal near the Alaska Airlines ticketing and baggage area, where a $546 million upgrade is in progress.

  • Arrive at the airport at least two hours before your boarding time for a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.
  • Carrying on your bags, using virtual boarding passes and signing up for Spot Saver — which may let you skip the general security lines — should make things easier, Cooper said.
  • For real-time updates on delays and cancellations, see Flight Status or FlightAware.

1 good thing: Weather should not be an impediment for folks traveling in the Puget Sound region, according to Michael Fagin of Washington Online Weather.

  • Thanks to a high pressure ridge, the skies should be clear from midday Wednesday through Sunday, with high temperatures ranging between 45 and 50, Fagin told Axios.

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