Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Beginning Friday, millions of travelers are expected to make their way to visit family in the coming weeks in what is forecast to be one of the busiest holiday travel periods on record.
Between now and Dec. 3, more than 31.6 million passengers are forecast to take to the skies for the Thanksgiving holiday -- a 3.7 percent increase from the same period last year, according to data from Airlines for America.
The surge in holiday airline travel is expected to hit its peak on Dec. 1, the Sunday after Thanksgiving -- which is scheduled to become the busiest single travel day in U.S. history. The group says a record 3.1 million passengers are set to make their flights home that day.
The second-busiest day at airports will be Wednesday, Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving, with about 3 million passengers -- followed by Friday, Nov. 22; Monday, Dec. 2; and Tuesday, Nov. 26.
"The popularity of air travel continues to soar this holiday season, as airlines and airports alike continue to invest billions of dollars into improving the quality of the experience and the efficiency of their operations," said A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich.
By contrast, Thanksgiving Day will be the least busy air travel day -- with just 1.8 million projected flyers.
To accommodate the increase this year of about 93,000 daily flyers, airlines are adding nearly 900 flights to their schedule, Airlines for America said.
Overall, AAA said it expects more than 55 million travelers will make a trip of 50 miles or more away from their home between Wednesday and Dec. 1 -- the highest since it began tracking Thanksgiving travel data in 2000 and an increase of 1.6 million over the same period in 2018.
During that travel window, AAA projects nearly 50 million Americans will travel by automobile, 4.5 million will fly and 1.5 million will travel via other modes of transportation, like trains, buses and cruise ships.
Analysts say Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, will be the most difficult travel day -- as trips by automobile may take four times longer than usual, with some of the worst delays taking place in the early evening in major cities including Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York City and Boston, travel analytics company INRIX says.
"With record levels of travelers and persistent population growth in the country's major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays," said INRIX transportation analyst Trevor Reed. "Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week."
As usual, weather will play a significant role. Storms are expected to cause travel issues during the peak of Thanksgiving travel time as a wintry mix is forecast for the Midwest and Northeast this weekend -- ahead of a more disruptive storm in the central United States as the holiday nears, AccuWeather projects.
AAA recommends traveling on Nov. 25, the Monday before Thanksgiving, as data from the last three years shows that's when flyers can expect the lowest average airfare prices and the fewest travelers.
Americans hitting the road for the holiday will see cheaper gas than usual this year. The national average, projected to be around $2.57 during the Thanksgiving week, will be lower than it was a year ago, experts say.
Those planning to rent a vehicle, however, will see an increase. Rental car prices are projected to reach their highest on record for the travel period -- at $75 per day, AAA says.
Where will most Americans be traveling? Experts say warm-weather destinations in the Sunshine State and the Golden State will see influxes. Orlando, Fla., and Anaheim, Calif., are projected the most popular travel destinations, followed by New York City, Las Vegas and Honolulu.
This Thanksgiving travel period will also be the last before the Transportation Security Administration begins requiring flyers present Real ID-compliant identification to pass security checkpoints at all U.S. airports. The more secure driver's licenses and ID cards will be a requirement to fly beginning Oct. 1, 2020.
The Real ID law was enacted in 2005 to fulfill a recommendation by congressional panel that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.