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'Pack your patience': Experts expect Thanksgiving travel to be near pre-pandemic levels

AAA expects 2.1 million New Englanders to travel for Thanksgiving and plans to assist 3,000 Mainers having car trouble.

BANGOR, Maine — Many people hunkered down for the holiday season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but travelers are expected to be on the move again this Thanksgiving.

Across New England, AAA predicts travel for Thanksgiving will bounce back to near pre-pandemic levels, with 2.4 million people expected to travel for the holiday — a 12.5% increase from last year.  

"There's a number of factors coming into play [for more people traveling] — the [COVID-19] vaccine for sure," Patrick Moody with AAA Northern New England said. "Economic factors come into play as well, with continued improvement in personal income."

Moody expects 285,000 New Englanders will travel by air over the upcoming holiday — an 80% increase compared to last year.

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"It's more important than ever before to plan ahead to save both time and money," Moody added. "When we talk about air travel, Tuesday is the most congested and expensive day to travel. Monday is the least expensive and busy day of the week to fly. Folks will walk to get to the airport at least two hours before a domestic flight and three hours for an international flight."   

But while air travel is expected to rise, the majority of New England travelers will still go by car, according to AAA, with 90% — 2.1 million — expected to drive.

"When we talk about driving, avoiding those high-congested areas and times of the week prior to the holiday are key. Try to avoid driving Wednesday afternoon and try to leave Tuesday or on Thanksgiving day, if possible," Moody told NEWS CENTER Maine.

AAA expects to come to the rescue of 3,000 Maine drivers over the holiday weekend. Moody said the top reasons Mainers will be calling AAA is because they need to be towed, jump-started, a tire change, or let back into their car after being locked out.

"Pack your patience and drive safe," Moody said. "Roads are going to be extremely busy out there."

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As the holiday travel season nears, so is the Nov. 22 deadline for federal employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The requirement includes workers at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). 

"We do not anticipate that the vaccine mandate will impact our ability to staff… any of Maine's federalized airports for Thanksgiving travel," Daniel Velez, a spokesman for the TSA New England Region, told NEWS CENTER Maine. 

As of last month, 40% of all TSA workers were still unvaccinated. Velez was not able to share how many TSA workers in Maine remain unvaccinated.