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Austin airport sees busiest Thanksgiving holiday travel week ever

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport saw record Thanksgiving passenger numbers as the airport continues to recover from the pandemic. (Claire Partain)

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport saw 284,198 passengers checked through TSA security over the Thanksgiving holiday, marking the busiest Thanksgiving travel season on record.

The airport saw around 40,000 more passengers than its peak holiday week in 2019 and nearly triple the traffic of 2020 as the airport continues to bounce back much more quickly than was originally projected.

Those numbers weren't quite reflected nationwide—air travel on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving more than doubled when compared to the same 2020, with 2.3 million people passing through TSA checkpoints on that day. That's higher than any other pandemic day but about 88% of the levels from that day in 2019.

But the record numbers, which ABIA public information officer Bryce Dubee said are usually reserved for Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix and both weekends of ACL fest, indicate that travel in Austin may have done more than just recover from the pandemic.

Dubee said the airport's crew was already gearing up for several 30,000+ passenger days by Friday, Nov. 19. Then the first Sunday of the holiday alone saw 32,175 passengers, the second-busiest day on record after this year's USGP race weekend.

Travel from Friday through Wednesday saw 188,168 passengers during the holiday week, already passing the threshold for the busiest Thanksgiving travel season on record.

And as travelers returned home with full bellies and weeklong visits behind them, the airport saw 96,030 passengers from Thanksgiving through Sunday. The final Sunday saw just over 30,000 passengers—which still broke 2019 records and obliterated 2020's numbers—but notably, the Sunday before Thanksgiving was the busiest travel day of the period, something that hasn't been seen in years past.

ABIA recommended that travelers arrive three hours early for their flights and find other ways to make the screening process easier as record numbers piled into the airport. But after a record-breaking F1 weekend and other high-traffic days serving as "stress tests" this October, Dubee said the team was prepared for the unprecedented weekend as travelers went to see their family, some for the first time since an 18-month travel ban was lifted.

And the airport is prepping for even more foot traffic in the future with its 2040 master plan. Even as travel dwindled and fewer passengers than ever crossed through TSA checkpoints in peak pandemic times, the airport saw significant expansion: American Airlines added 10 flights to the airport in March, Southwest Airlines announced in September that it would add nine flights in March 2022, and Allegiant, Delta and Hawaiian all tacked on new flights in 2020-21.

While this Thanksgiving week, which normally just scrapes the top ten busiest travel times of the year, saw an unusual year, Dubee said it's too soon to see whether this represents a long-term trend. And especially as the omicron COVID variant sends the world into a frenzy, the winter holidays may not see the fervor of Thanksgiving travel—the holiday season rarely makes a dent on ABIA's high-traffic fall events.


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