If you’re jetting away or driving off for the holidays, join the crowd.
Airports are expected to be the busiest they’ve ever been throughout the Christmas and New Year’s travel period, according to a news release from AAA – The Auto Club Group.
“AAA has seen steady year-over-year growth in travel demand, culminating with what is expected to be the busiest year-end holiday travel season on record in Florida, and the second-busiest nationwide,” Debbie Haas, vice president of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group, said in the release.
An estimated 115.2 million travelers are expected across the nation during the holidays, a figure surpassed only in 2019. The figure also represents an increase of 2.5 million over last year.
Of those making a trip, the vast majority will travel by vehicle, coming in at an estimated 103.6 million, which represents an increase of 1.8 million more than last year.
About 4 million will travel by bus, train, cruise or other modes, which constitutes the largest number of travelers using those means since 2008. It’s also the fifth-highest on record and tops last year’s total by 394,000.
Nationally, AAA projects 7.5 million air travelers, surpassing the record set in 2019.
At Tampa International Airport (TPA), airlines are significantly increasing the number of available seats on routes to and from TPA this year, according to airport officials.
In November, TPA experienced a record-breaking number of travelers, including its second-busiest travel day ever with 89,018 people visiting the airport on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a TPA news release says.
The two heaviest days are expected to be the Saturday before and the Saturday after the Christmas holiday, when more than 90,000 passengers are expected to travel through TPA, and the weekend after New Year’s Day also will be extremely busy, the release says.
Following a record Thanksgiving last month, Tampa International Airport is now preparing for similar upcoming traffic as it expects around 80,000 passengers per day during the three-week Christmas and New Year’s holiday period.
Much like the Thanksgiving period, TPA’s parking garages are expected to reach capacity during peak times, so travelers are urged to book parking in advance online. Some garages could briefly close, so travelers without reservations could get bumped to alternative lots, hence the need to arrive early. All drivers with reservations will be guaranteed a parking spot, according to airport officials.
Arriving passengers using ride-share apps such as Uber and Lyft for pick-up on the Blue Side will be directed to use the Blue Express Curbsides to relieve congestion at the Blue Bag Claim level. Passengers using Uber and Lyft on the Red Side can either use the Red Arrivals drive or take the elevator up and over to the Blue Express Curbsides, where there is less traffic and passengers can be picked up more quickly.
Across Florida, AAA is reporting that nearly 357,000 of the state’s residents are expected to take a commercial flight. That’s 15,000 more than last year, and it’s the second-highest air travel volume on record, behind 2003 (399,000).
Overall, AAA expects nearly 218,000 more Floridians will be taking a trip for the holidays, in the period spanning from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, according to a AAA news release. That doesn’t include those traveling to Florida from other states.
Make holiday travel smoother at Tampa International Airport
- Plan ahead for parking. Reserve a spot so you’ll be sure to have one. Book in advance at TampaAirport.com/Park.
- If you’re not checking baggage, choose the Blue Express Curbsides to get in and out of the terminal more easily. This is also where ride-share apps pick up arriving passengers on the Blue Side. Passengers on the Red Side can meet their Uber or Lyft outside of the Red baggage claim area.
- Arrive at least two hours before departure; at least three hours, if you are traveling internationally.
- Check your pockets and your carry-on baggage before leaving your house. Jams and jellies, cranberry sauce, gravy, bottles of wine and other holiday treats are commonly confiscated at TSA checkpoints, along with the usual prohibited items such as knives and firearms.
- Skip the lines: You can order a snack before you arrive and have it waiting for you when you get there. Use either TPA To Go or the Starbucks mobile app to order and pay, then swing by the counter and pick up your items without standing in line.
Source: Tampa International Airport
A few more parking tips to keep in mind
- Remove valuables from your vehicle.
- Lock doors and roll up windows.
- Take a photo of your spot to remember where you parked.
- Keep your ticket and receipt (if prepaid) to show when exiting.
- If you park off-site from the airport, be sure to look for a reputable business and be sure there’s a shuttle to get you to the airport.
- Opt for covered parking if you live in an area that is expecting inclement weather.
Best/Worst Times to Drive
Here’s some information regarding best and worst times to drive during the holiday period from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, based on transportation insights from INRIX, and courtesy of AAA:
Dec. 23: Best time to travel, before 10 a.m.; worst time to travel, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Dec. 26: Best time to travel, before noon; worst time to travel, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Dec. 27: Best time to travel, before noon; worst time to travel, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Dec. 28: Best time to travel, before noon; worst time to travel, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Dec. 29: Best time to travel, before noon; worst time to travel, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Dec. 30: Best time to travel, before noon; worst time to travel, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Minimal travel is expected on Dec. 24, Dec. 25, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
Published December 20, 2023