- I traveled over Thanksgiving week and I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to have an easy airport experience.
- Both Boston and Atlanta airports had short security wait times, though Atlanta was a little busier with more crowds.
- The airlines and TSA appeared to be well prepared with enough staff to keep the operation running smoothly.
If you flew over Thanksgiving week this year then you may have prepped for the worst. Airlines and the TSA warned of long security lines and crowded airports, advising passengers to arrive hours early to the airport and pack smart.
Despite the agency expecting millions of passengers per day, it vowed to keep the operation smoothly, and, based on my experience, it appears it did.
I took the risk of flying over Thanksgiving knowing I could face an operational meltdown due to staffing shortages, or long security lines due to the high volume of potential travelers. However, like many others probably experienced, the chaos never came.
I flew out of Boston Logan International Airport on Monday, November 22. My JetBlue flight was scheduled to depart at 5:20 a.m., which seemed early enough to expect low crowds.
However, based on prior years and iFly’s predicted security wait times of 40 minutes, I decided to get to the airport two hours early to be safe.
When I arrived, I walked into a completely empty terminal. There were a few souls sleeping on chairs but there was barely anyone at the check-in kiosks or bag drop lines. While I was relieved to see the minimal crowds, I was still happy I budgeted the extra hour.
After checking in, I headed to security hoping to use TSA PreCheck, but it was closed, so I was forced to use the regular line.
However, it didn’t matter. I waited behind just one other traveler before presenting my ID to the TSA agent and breezed through the checkpoint in about five minutes.
Looking around it was clear that the TSA prepared for crowds. The airport had plenty of checkpoint lanes open, though only one was being used, and there were three different packs of agents just sitting around chatting, apparently without much to do.
After whizzing through security, I headed to my gate. As I walked through the airport, I noticed nothing was open, which makes sense considering it was only about 3:20 a.m., but the place was a graveyard.
There were 10 flights departing out of JetBlue’s terminal by 6 a.m. Monday morning, so I was expecting to see more people moving about, but I was happy to get to my gate and settled with plenty of time to spare.
By the time my flight boarded at 4:45 a.m., the crowds were still low in the adjacent gates and I came to find my flight wasn’t even full.
After landing in Atlanta, I thought the crowds may have picked up a bit, but I was again surprised to see open hallways, and I had no trouble finding a spot on the passenger tram that took me to arrivals.
In the main departure lobby, I looked around at the airline bag drop and security lines, and once again found minimal queues. While there were definitely more people in line in Atlanta, the TSA obviously had the appropriate staff and resources to get people through quickly.
The only long line I saw was at the Spirit Airlines counter, which stretched beyond the available queue space.
At this point, I was pretty confident the TSA and airlines seemed to have things under control, at least for Monday, but I was even more convinced when I saw the sheer number of cars in line to drop off passengers.
The cars were backed up well beyond the dropoff entry, and my ride spent 10 minutes just waiting to get to where I was in the pickup lane.
It was obvious at that point that the passenger volume was immense, but inside it was clear that the TSA and airlines could handle it. On Monday, the agency screened 2,081,064 passengers, which was just 173,124 passengers less than 2019.
While I was impressed with my easy travel experience on Monday, I wasn’t holding onto my confidence for Friday when I flew home. While the day after Thanksgiving isn’t a notoriously busy day, I still worried about what to expect considering Atlanta is the busiest airport in the US.
I arrived at Atlanta airport around 2:00 p.m. for a 4:15 p.m. flight. The line for departures was long and I was starting to worry, but after about five minutes I was at the dropoff. Inside, there were more crowds than Monday, but I suspect that was due to the time of day and the airport.
Nevertheless, the experience was the same as in Boston. I was flying on Delta and had no issues checking in at the kiosk, though I was asked if I wanted to volunteer to take a later flight. My flight was clearly full, but luckily I got on with no issues.
For security, Atlanta had a number of options in the south terminal where Delta operates. Fortunately, I was able to use the TSA PreCheck line this time and it took less than five minutes, though the agency had plenty of queue space prepared.
Meanwhile, my partner who I was traveling with went through the regular TSA line and only spent about 10 minutes at the checkpoint. We were past security and at the airport lounge within 30 minutes of being dropped off.
Whenever I travel, I try to leave enough time to go to the Priority Pass lounge, though I have had issues this year getting in because of capacity. I was worried about this in Atlanta, but there was no wait to enter and we easily found a table.
Getting food and drinks was also no problem.
The only time I experienced a bigger crowd was on the tram, which was busy but not shoulder-to-shoulder packed, and on the escalators up to the terminal. However, once in the hall, everyone dispersed and there was plenty of room to walk.
My gate was busy, which I expected when I realized my flight was full. However, my partner and I got a seat and we boarded without any issue.
Both my outbound and return flights were right on time and even landed early.
On Friday, the TSA only screened 1,778,983 passengers, making it a less busy day than Monday.
Sunday, however, which was expected to be the busiest travel day of the week, saw more than 2.4 million passengers screened, causing higher crowds and longer TSA wait times.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Boone Alexander, who flew out of Atlanta on Sunday, said the security line took about an hour and a half, and the queue wrapped around the baggage carousel. However, Boone told the WSJ that he arrived three hours early and had no issues making his flight.
“It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, you know? It’s battle conditions,” Boone said. Though, he still complimented the TSA agents. “The staff handled it really well.”
Overall, it appears the TSA and airlines were well-prepared for the Thanksgiving surge with no airlines reporting any major operational disruptions.
According to the WSJ, about 400 domestic flights were canceled between Monday and Saturday last week, which accounts for just 0.33% of the scheduled flights. Meanwhile, just 70 flights were axed on Sunday.
Based on my experience, it appears the TSA and airlines successfully staffed for the busy week.