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Buckle up! Thanksgiving travel expected to return to pre-pandemic levels

The AAA expects the number of Thanksgiving Travelers to be just shy of 2019.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — The AAA predicts 1.2 million Tennesseans will travel for Thanksgiving, only 3% below pre-pandemic levels. Nationally, the organization expects 53.4 million Thanksgiving travelers.

The Jefferson County Rest Area is one of the most popular stops in the area, and workers there said they expect a rush of travelers over the holiday weekend.

WBIR Thanksgiving Weather Forecast

"Mostly the week right before Thanksgiving is when we have a lot of extra travelers," said the rest area supervisor. "Unless we have 100,000 people come through here at one time, we can handle them."

Experts said the best times to travel over Thanksgiving weekend are Wednesday, after 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday 11/26 before 11 a.m.

McGhee Tyson Airport is expecting more travelers between Wednesday and Monday, but they said they do not know exactly how many. 

Airport spokesperson Becky Huckaby suggested travelers arrive 1.5 - 2 hours before their flight, especially with the increased number of travelers.

Thanksgiving flyers are encouraged to check flyknoxville.com for flight updates, security wait times, and parking availability before they leave their homes.

Some travelers at the Jefferson County Rest Area already started driving the week before to avoid the Thanksgiving rush. 

Lorelei Zaborski and her family left Michigan for Florida to visit their aunt. The third-grader is excited to swim in her aunt's pool and eat cranberry sauce. It's too cold for pools in Michigan, Lorelei said. 

If you're heading out on the road, AAA recommends travelers be proactive, be patient and be prepared for the weather. Thankfully, the forecast for East Tennessee appears to be dry Wednesday, but rain is expected to return the evening of Thanksgiving.

Plan ahead and expect traffic if you are traveling on I-40 or I-75 through the Knoxville corridor -- traffic jams are as plentiful as pumpkin pie during the Thanksgiving holiday, particularly at the I-75 interchanges.

If you're driving through Asheville, North Carolina -- also be aware that bridge work at the North Carolina state line in the Pigeon River Gorge will definitely slow things down on I-40 both to and from East Tennessee. 

The CDC listed recommendations for safe travel during the holidays. They suggest wearing masks in public indoor spaces and avoiding poorly ventilated spaces. They encourage everybody who is eligible to get vaccinated to protect those who cannot, and encourage testing before gatherings.