With its growing population and busier-than-ever airport, it’s safe to say that the Sarasota-Bradenton area will be a travel epicenter this Thanksgiving.
Punta Gorda Airport in Charlotte County is expecting 29 arrivals and 29 departures the day before Thanksgiving, and a total of 62 flights the Sunday after. Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is expecting a total of 202,000 passengers between Nov. 18 and 30.
And Tampa International Airport said it will see up to or more than 80,000 passengers on this week’s peak days. The Saturday after Thanksgiving will be the airport’s busiest – 82,000 travelers are expected on that day alone.
But travel, even during a busy time, doesn’t have to be a complete headache. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning to visit Sarasota-Bradenton this week – or if you’re leaving town:
1. You won’t be the only one It may seem obvious, but it still bears repeating: prepare for crowds when traveling for Thanksgiving.
Although traffic is expected to be lighter than it was in 2019, studies expect roads and skies to be busier than last year.
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A report from AAA found that 2.85 million Floridians plan to travel for Thanksgiving this year, up from 2.5 million in 2020. Nationally, 53.4 million Americans are expected to leave home, the highest single-year increase since 2005.
There’s still a pandemic, yes, but AAA expects travel to be similar to that of a normal year, especially in Florida, where Thanksgiving travel will be down just 2% compared to 2019 levels.
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2. Know when to goWe don’t always have control over when we get to leave work to begin holiday celebrations. But if you can, a report from INRIX and AAA says that it’s best to hit the road Wednesday before noon.
The worst time to travel on Wednesday is anytime between 12 and 8 p.m., the report found. Those who have to stay at work through closing time might actually be better off putting off their travel until after 9 p.m.
Traffic is expected to be at its heaviest between noon and 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Black Friday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, the report found.
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3. Know where to parkBoth local airports have boosted their parking capacity in advance of the holiday season.
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport has a total of 3,500 available parking spaces, airport president and CEO Rick Piccolo said. That’s almost double what the airport had at this time last year.
The airport also purchased six new shuttle buses, Piccolo said.
“We’ve had a number of meetings this past week about parking. We’re opening another lot today that is just being finished,” he said on Friday, Nov. 19. “I think we’re ready.”
The Punta Gorda Airport has 1,000 new long term parking spaces, marketing and communications manager Kaley Miller said.
4. Check your carIt never hurts to give your vehicle a last-minute holiday touch up, especially since AAA estimates that about 400,000 Americans will need some sort of roadside assistance this Thanksgiving weekend.
The most common car issues this time of year are dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts, according to AAA. Before hitting the road, it’s a good idea to check your tires, battery, brakes, fluids and wiper blades.
Tires are especially important – last year, there were 3,069 tire-related crashes in Florida, resulting in 184 serious injuries and 61 fatalities.
“Before you hit the road this Thanksgiving, make sure to check everything from the battery to the tires,” Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA, said. “That could make the difference between spending Thanksgiving at the table or on the roadside.”
And if you’re planning to rent a vehicle, Piccolo said, don’t expect to just show up at the airport and ask for one.
“I would urge people that if they haven’t made a reservation for their car, make it now,” he said.
5. When you get to your destination, celebrate safelyIf you do plan to travel for Thanksgiving, keep in mind that there are still safety risks out there.
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise the public to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before traveling for Thanksgiving. This can protect individuals as well as children who are too young to receive a vaccine.
The CDC also encourages wearing masks inside public indoor settings. And, of course, masks are required inside of airports and on airplanes.
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6. Arrive at the airport earlyAt Punta Gorda, Miller said a lot of travelers think they can get away with showing up not too long before their flight – especially in the mornings. But this time of year, TSA lines can get crowded because there are a lot of flights leaving at the same time.
“People think, ‘oh it’s a small airport, I can show up an hour before.’ You can’t do that in the morning, because of the security lines and check in lines,” she said. “We have a lot of flights leaving at same time and a lot of people in security lines.”
Piccolo said that it’s best to arrive at Sarasota-Bradenton two hours before takeoff. Travelers should check with the airlines to make sure their flights are on-time.
“Also, check the TSA’s website for information on what is allowed in carry-on and checked luggage,” Piccolo said. “By taking a little extra time to follow these suggestions, we hope that you will find your travel to be stress-free and enjoyable.”
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