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Thanksgiving Travel 2023 Recap

by 
Shira Petrack
 on 
December 5, 2023
Thanksgiving Travel 2023 Recap

The days around Thanksgiving are traditionally some of the busiest days of the year for air travel. So how did Thanksgiving 2023 impact foot traffic at major airports nationwide? We dove into the data to find out. 

Visits to Airports Heat Up Begin Heating Up Well Before Thanksgiving

Black Friday may be the busiest day of the year in the Electronics and Apparel space, but other categories see foot traffic peaks on different Thanksgiving-adjacent days. The grocery sector, for example, receives a massive visit spike on Turkey Wednesday. And for airports, visits tend to peak on the Sunday following the holiday. This year, airports were particularly busy – according to the TSA, post-Thanksgiving Sunday 2023 shattered records for the most people to go through security on a single day.

But while airport foot traffic is usually at its highest on post-Thanksgiving Sunday, visits start to increase well before Thanksgiving. The chart below – showing daily visits of non-international travelersto over 60 U.S. airports compared to average daily visits between September 1st and November 30th 2023 – indicates that the Thanksgiving travel season began this year on Friday, November 17th – a week before the holiday. By Tuesday, November 21st, visits were 58.6% higher than the previous three Tuesdays’ average, and Wednesday November 22nd saw airport foot traffic up 37.5% relative to the previous three Wednesdays. 

Diving into Leading Airports 

Looking at the foot traffic data for six of the largest airports in the U.S. between October 31st and November 30th, 2023 highlights some similarities and differences between various airports and their Thanksgiving visit surges. 

Visits to all six airports analyzed – JFK, ATL, DFW, ORD, LAX and MIA – peaked on Sunday, November 26th. The post-Thanksgiving peak was most pronounced at MIA and ORD – followed by LAX and ATL – and MIA and ORD also came out on top in terms of visit spikes on the weekend before Thanksgiving (Friday November 17th to Sunday November 19th). 

JFK’s post-Thanksgiving Sunday visit spike lagged behind that of the other airports – maybe the Thanksgiving surge was offset by a drop in tourists over the weekend as Americans spent the holiday with family. But JFK did see a significant jump in foot traffic on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and slightly larger increases in visits than the other airports on the days following Sunday, November 26th. So perhaps NYC transplants who flew home for the holidays chose to come back a little later than Thanksgiving travelers in other cities, which could also explain the relatively small Sunday visit peak.  

Who’s Driving the Thanksgiving Airport Visit Surge? 

Analyzing the demographic and psychographic makeup of the six major U.S. airports’ trade areas during the three weeks before Thanksgiving and the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday around Thanksgiving reveals that singles may be driving the Thanksgiving airport visit surge. 

On the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday following, the airports’ trade areas included fewer households with children than they did during the three weeks before Thanksgiving. The trade areas during the extended Thanksgiving weekend also had more “Educated Urbanites,” defined as “well educated young singles living in dense urban areas working relatively high-paying jobs.” 

This seems to indicate that more young singles or unattached individuals travel home for Thanksgiving, while young families may choose to stay put – or opt to drive – rather than risk maneuvering the airport with young children in tow. 

With the holiday almost here – and predictions of a particularly strong demand for flights and hotels over the upcoming weeks – what will the data reveal about the upcoming travel season? 

Visit placer.ai/blog to find out. 

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