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How to Survive the Thanksgiving Travel Rush This Year

Are you one of the expected 48.5 million Americans who will drive 50 miles or more over Thanksgiving 2018? You could face up to four times the normal driving times at peak hours, AAA warns. Drivers in or out of Boston, New York City, and San Francisco will face the worst congestion, and most other big cities will also see delays.

Avoiding the Thanksgiving 2018 Crowds

Peak congestion days will start earlier than you might expect this year: The AAA says that Houston will hit its peak on Monday while Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, New York, Seattle, and Washington will peak on Tuesday, and Chicago and Los Angeles will peak the day before Thanksgiving. Late afternoon to early evening are the peak hours for all of those cities, and Sunday afternoon and evening will be marked by heavy congestion everywhere as travelers return home.

The Thanksgiving Airport Rush

Air travelers will no doubt face heavy delays getting to the airport. AAA predicts airport travel times from downtown areas t will range from a near-normal 24 minutes at San Francisco to the more dismal 97 minutes to Chicago’s O’Hare, 79 minutes to New York’s JFK, 58 minutes to Los Angeles’, and 55 minutes to Denver’s. And the worst airport times of those heavy travel days are again late afternoon and early evening.

Here are the airports that will get hit the hardest, and when:

Worst Thanksgiving Travel Times to America’s Busiest Airports
Metro Area Airport Route Worst Time for Travel Travel Time at Peak
Dallas Downtown to DFW via TX-183 W Monday,
5:00 – 7:00 PM
30 min
San Francisco Downtown to SFO via US-101 S Monday,
5:00 – 7:00 PM
24 min
Denver Downtown to DIA via I-70 E and Pena Blvd Monday,
5:30 – 7:30 PM
55 min
New York Downtown to JFK via Long Island Expressway East Tuesday,
5:30 – 7:30 PM
1 hr 19 min
Los Angeles Downtown to LAX via I-110 S Tuesday,
7:00 – 9:00 PM
58 min
Atlanta Downtown to ALT via I-75 S Tuesday,
7:00 – 9:00 PM
34 min
Charlotte Downtown to CLT via US-74 W Tuesday,
8:00 – 10:00 PM
21 min
Las Vegas Downtown to LAS via I-15 S Wednesday,
8:00 – 9:00 AM
27 min
Chicago Downtown to ORD via Kennedy Expressway West Wednesday,
1:30 – 3:30 PM
1 hr 37 min
Seattle Downtown to SEA via I-5 S Wednesday,
8:00 – 10:00 PM
41 min

Source: INRIX

Airport Parking and Car Rentals

Although not included in the AAA report, it’s worth adding another Thanksgiving travel problem to the list: sold-out airport parking lots. If you plan to leave your car at your departure airport while you’re away from home, consider ride-sharing instead. Or you can pre-arrange a guaranteed parking space at a nearby (non-airport) lot through an online agency like

If you’re renting a car at your destination, AAA reports that the average daily rate this year, at $63, is a bit below last year’s rate—but you can usually beat the daily rate on multi-day rentals by doing a little digging. Priceline, for example quotes a rate as low as $34 a day on a five-day rental at Orlando over the holiday period.

And the number one “duh” recommendation for heavy travel days is always the same: Be sure to allow enough time, gas, and car health to handle the traffic. AAA says it expects to rescue some 360,000 drivers during the Thanksgiving period, and suggests you make sure you car is in top shape before you leave. No one wants to spend Thanksgiving day stranded on a highway.

More from SmarterTravel:

 Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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