OAKLAND -- Melanie Smith was all smiles early Wednesday as she sat Oakland International Airport, awaiting her flight to Ontario and a family gathering on Thanksgiving.
It will be the first time since before the COVID pandemic that three generations of her family have been able to get together to laugh, reminisce and share a holiday meal.
"I'm heading to Ontario airport to visit my cousins," she said. "We haven't seen each other in four years. It's going to be so cool for all of us to be at the table."
Smith had plenty of company on Wednesday morning. Oakland airport officials said they expect to see 170,000 passengers stream through the terminals by Sunday. That is a 10 percent increase from last year and 90 percent of the pre-pandemic holiday rush.
At Mineta San Jose International Airport, officials said passenger traffic was at its highest level since 2019 with over 438,000 passengers expect to pass through their doors in the 12 days between Friday, Nov. 18 and Tuesday, Nov. 29.
Meanwhile, San Francisco International officials were expecting 5 million travelers between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.6 million travelers across the nation on Monday, surpassing the 2.5 million screened the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2019. The same trend occurred Sunday, marking the first year that the number of people catching planes on Thanksgiving week surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
"People are traveling on different days. Not everyone is traveling on that Wednesday night," says Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president at the trade group Airlines for America. "People are spreading their travel out throughout the week, which I also think will help ensure smoother operations."
AAA predicts that 54.6 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home this week, a 1.5% bump over Thanksgiving last year and only 2% less than in 2019. The auto club and insurance seller says nearly 49 million of those will travel by car, and 4.5 million will fly between Wednesday and Sunday.
Motorists were also being greeted with lower gas prices. According to gasbuddy.com, the national average for a gallon of unleaded was down 16.4 cents from a month ago.
In San Francisco, the price of a gallon of gas dropped from $5.971 a month ago to $5.301 on Wednesday.
"Everyone will be seeing relief at the pump this week, with even more substantial declines on the way as oil prices plummeted last week," said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
With clear skies across much of the country, airline officials were also hoping to avoid delays and cancellations.
"We did have a challenging summer," said Pinkerton, whose group speaks for members including American, United and Delta. She said that airlines have pared their schedules and hired thousands of workers — they now have more pilots than before the pandemic. "As a result, we're confident that the week is going to go well."
Airlines plan to operate 13% fewer flights this week than during Thanksgiving week in 2019. However, by using larger planes on average, the number of seats will drop only 2%, according to data from travel-researcher Cirium.
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