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Advice For Dealing With Record-Breaking Thanksgiving Travel

A plane lifts off the runway at Tampa International Airport.
Tampa International Airport
The busiest travel days leading up to Thanksgiving will be Nov. 27, the Wednesday before the holiday, with 2.7 million passengers and crew expected to fly according to TSA.

The current Thanksgiving travel season is projected to be the busiest time to fly with more than 26.8 million passengers - a new record, according to the Transportation Safety Administration - flying between November 22 and December 2.

Officials at Tampa International and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airports are offering travelers flying during Thanksgiving some advice, as well as to those who are already planning their Christmas and New Year vacations.

Parking is the main concern for those who are flying out of St. Pete-Clearwater. Michele Routh, the airport's public relations director, expects all of their available lots to fill up during the busy travel season.

“At this point in time, we don't anticipate having enough parking,” she said. “We are actually urging travelers to consider getting family, friends, Uber, or Lyft to the airport.”

St. Pete-Clearwater offers long term parking for $14 per day, so hiring a rideshare to and from the airport might be cheaper than parking depending on where you’re driving from.

At Tampa International, travelers have a few more options to choose from.

“We have different parking garages,” said TIA spokeswoman Emily Nipps.

Ulele restaurant in Tampa International Airport.
Credit Tampa International Airport
Officials are recommending that travelers arrive early to the airport so they don't miss their flight by an unforeseen delay. Tampa International Airport travelers can take advantage of that extra time to eat at popular restaurants like Ulele.

“Our economy garage is obviously the most economical option, that's $10 a day, and it's just a short train ride from the economy garage to the terminal.  We do expect that to be pretty full. So, if it does get filled up, we would reroute you to the long term garage.”

Like most arrivals terminals, curbside waiting at both airports is not allowed.

“The cell phone lot is free,” Routh said. “If you're arriving, then you want to enter into the cell phone lot, wait for your passengers to be ready with their luggage curbside, and then proceed to pickup.”

People who are picking up travelers at Tampa International can either wait in the free wifi-equipped cell phone lot or park in short- or long-term parking garages so they can greet their family member or friend in the terminal.

Parking in these garages is free for up to 60 minutes.

Both airports are expecting heavy traffic in and around the airport, so travelers should plan accordingly. Officials are encouraging people to arrive two hours before the scheduled boarding time for domestic flights.

“International is typically three hours before your boarding time and then you might want to tack on an extra 30 minutes to that if you're traveling during a very heavy period,” Nipps said.

There's also construction roads surrounding St. Pete-Clearwater that could slow down travel and parking. Some of the work has closed areas of the curbside in the past, but barricades have been removed just in time for the busy season.

“All of the roads around the airport are under construction due to the gateway express project, which is the overpass road that's being constructed,” Routh said. “So there may be various travel delays with construction because it's just more challenging to see what's going on ahead of you.”

And Tampa International is also in the middle of constructing a new express curbside that will open in a couple of years.

“We are trying to be mindful of the heavy (travel) periods and not have anything very disruptive,” Nipps said. “But we have lowered our speed limits around the construction areas.”

Weather can also be an issue during the holiday travel season, so check in with your airline often for updated flight information.

Travelers should also check TSA.gov to see what can and can’t be brought onto an airplane.

Erin O’Brien is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.
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