Turkey trotting? Here's our 2023 holiday travel preview - with a side of stress

Experts predict a blockbuster Thanksgiving travel week with all COVID-19 restraints thrown out the window.

Here's what to expect on trains, planes and automobiles next week and looking ahead to the December holidays.

AAA estimates this Thanksgiving will be the second-highest turkey trot on record with more than 2.8 million Illinoisans - 60,000 more than 2022 - voyaging 50 miles or more from home.

The agency advises travelers to expect congested roads and airport lines and to "leave early."

"I'm nervous for the airlines due to jam-packed conditions in waiting areas and onboard flights," DePaul University aviation professor Joseph Schwieterman said. "Throw bad weather into the mix, and stressful situations will ensue."

Carrier meltdowns predominated in 2022, including Southwest, which was unprepared for a late December storm, embittering thousands who spent the holidays in airport terminals.

"Even stranding flyers for a day will be a major problem for many and spoil family events," Schwieterman noted.

Katy Nastro of (formerly Scott's Cheap Flights) has her fingers crossed, explaining the industry ramped up capacity to 2019 levels. "We still may not have as many flights flying but a lot of the carriers were able to update (and) fly bigger planes to offer more seats."

Haven't booked your seat yet? "Waiting until the last minute is never a good idea with airfare," she warned. "It doesn't work like retail where, close to Christmas, the bargain bins come out."

Nastro's tip: "Don't fall into the trap of just looking at round trips. I would definitely try to search two one-ways" for bargains, she advises.

Driving anyone?

Of the 2.8 million Illinoisans journeying this holiday, 87% will be driving, AAA said. Wednesday, Nov. 22, promises the heaviest traffic, transportation data analysts INRIX projects. INRIX's tip: Leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. will get you to grandma's house the fastest.

Both AAA and GasBuddy's Patrick De Haan project tolerable fuel prices, especially compared with 2022.

The average price for a gallon of regular gas is $3.69 in the metro region in contrast with $4.41 last year as of Sunday, AAA reports.

"It may be a bit cheaper as we get closer to Thanksgiving. I'm hopeful," De Haan said.

"But by and large, the fundamentals that have brought us falling prices to where we are today are probably going to remain in this territory for the next couple of weeks.

"I think there might be some stations in metro Chicago that could fall below the $3 mark."

The fundamentals include reduced fuel demand with summer vacations over and cheaper winter gas prices. Adding to the churn is the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a major oil supplier, De Haan said.

Meanwhile, gas is a cheaper option in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. De Haan's tip for Chicago area residents leaving town: "I would encourage motorists to shop around."

Finally, caveat emptor with internet reservations. Some online travel agents glom onto names like "Southwest Airlines" or "Wyndham" when you search. Double-check the URL to be sure it's the brand you want and trust, versus a generic reservation service.

My tip: Always, always know the cancellation policy before pressing "submit."

Trains and buses

Schwieterman's tip: "Many of Amtrak's trains from Chicago are sold out even outside the holiday periods, so travelers should book as soon as possible."

That goes for bus trippers as well. "Greyhound and Flixbus don't have as many departures as they did before the pandemic due to chronic shortages of drivers and equipment. That hurts travelers on tight budgets and those without cars," he added.

Family members reunite at O'Hare International Airport prior to a past Thanksgiving. Daily Herald File Photo
Thousands of Thanksgiving week travelers are expected to pass through O'Hare International Airport. Daily Herald File Photo
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.