East Texas Regional Airport

A man makes his way through security in April at the East Texas Regional Airport.

Holiday travel kicked off earlier than expected this month at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport.

Airport Manager Steve Thompson said the airport has a “very solid stream of people arriving and departing,” but on Thursday and Friday of this past week, the airport “saw a significantly larger number of people traveling to Tyler.”

“That tells you Tyler is a great place to be for the holidays,” Thompson said.

The airport typically sees flights leaving three to five times a day — usually hitting five flights during holiday travel days. That equals to about 180 seats a day coming and going, and on this past Thursday and Friday, load factors, or occupied seats, reached about 80%.

“That’s a very strong showing of utilizing those seats,” Thompson said, and he thinks it’s probably a result of people finding better fares for traveling earlier before the week of Thanksgiving.

It’s also a reflection of holiday travel trends this year.

AAA’s annual holiday travel predictions say Thanksgiving travel will almost return to pre-pandemic levels this year, with 54.6 million people predicted to travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday. That’s up 1.5% from a year ago and 98% of pre-pandemic levels. It also would be the third-busiest year of Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking that in 2000.

“Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel, in a prepared statement. “Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you’re driving or flying.”

The story at the East Texas Regional Airport right outside Longview was different from Tyler’s this week.

Airport Manager Roy Miller said it’s a “normal Thanksgiving.” He said airports such as the ones in Gregg County, Shreveport and Texarkana see a lot of business travelers, typically, but fewer of those kinds of travelers during the holidays as business activity slows down.

AAA said more than 1.4 million travelers are going out of town for Thanksgiving by bus, train, or cruise ship. That’s an increase of 23% from 2021 and 96% of the 2019 volume.

LeTourneau University freshman Daniel Harris was part of that increase Tuesday as he waited outside of the Sidney Bell Willis Transit facility in Longview for his ride home for the holidays.

The Amtrak train station is just across the parking lot, and the Greyhound bus station is next door. After being unable to find a train that fit his needs for getting home to Grand Prairie, he had booked a seat on the bus.

“With travel restrictions lifted and more people comfortable taking public transportation again, it’s no surprise buses, trains, and cruises are coming back in a big way,” Twidale said. “Regardless of the mode of transportation you have chosen, expect crowds during your trip and at your destination. If your schedule is flexible, consider off-peak travel times during the holiday rush.”

Still, most travelers will drive to their Thanksgiving destination, with 49 million people expected to travel by car, AAA predicted. That’s up 0.4% from a year ago, but 2.5% down from 2019.

Travelers who are on the road will fill up with cheaper fuel, with the national average price for a regular gallon of gas dropping about 24 cents from a year ago to almost $3.64. It’s even lower in Texas, where the average price on Monday was the cheapest in the nation at $2.99 gallon. It fell lower on Tuesday to about $2.98.

Prices were slightly higher in the Longview area, where the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was about $3.02 on Tuesday. In the Tyler area on Tuesday it was $2.97.

That’s well below records set this summer that approached $5 a gallon in Longview and Tyler. And it’s about a penny less than a year ago in Longview and almost 8 cents lower than a year ago in Tyler.

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Jo Lee Ferguson wishes she kept her maiden name - Hammer - because it was perfect for a reporter. She’s a local girl who loves writing about her hometown. She and LNJ Managing Editor Randy Ferguson have two children and a crazy husky.