Busiest Christmas and New Year’s travel period kicks off in DC area

If you’re someone who travels out of the D.C. region for the holidays, one of the busiest winter holiday travel days has arrived.

“A lot of folks are getting away early for their holiday. We saw a lot of that yesterday, we’re seeing more of it today,” said WTOP traffic reporter Bob Immler.

While the regional airports might sound busy, AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts the vast majority of travelers in the D.C. metro area, 98%, will be driving to their destinations.

If you’re still preparing for that holiday road trip, don’t forget to bring important supplies that range from printed out driving directions, in case you don’t have service, to warm blankets, snacks and a flashlight in case there’s any kind of emergency that leaves you stuck on the roadway.

If you want to avoid most slowdowns, leave home early in the morning or late at night.

When it come to air travel, the Transportation Security Administration projects that the busiest days for flying nationwide are Thursday, Dec. 21; Friday, Dec. 29; and Monday, Jan. 1, with 2.5 million passengers on each of those days, a 6% increase over last year.

This is during a period when about 163,000 people will be flying out of local airports, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, who is also predicting that the holiday season will still fall 3% short of the record travel in 2019, the last Christmas before COVID-19 hit the U.S.

One traveler wears a “ho ho ho” suit jacket, bringing holiday cheer to the busiest travel day projected for the 2023 winter holidays. (WTOP/Kyle Cooper)

As of 1:45 p.m. there have been no flight cancellations yet, thankfully, according to FlightAware.com which tracks issues at airports. One traveler at Reagan National Airport even brought some holiday cheer for the stressful travel day.

“Just a standard blazer, but it’s bright red, with ‘ho ho ho’ all over it,” said Bill, describing the Christmas jacket he’s flying to New Hampshire in. “A little obnoxious, but ’tis the season.”

WTOP’s Scott Gelman reported live from Reagan National just after 3 p.m., where he said the standard security screening line was virtually empty.

This was a change from the morning hours, when WTOP’s Kyle Cooper reported that long lines inside and outside of the airport had already started by 5 a.m.

Travelers begin to queue at Reagan National Airport for the projected busiest airport travel day. (WTOP/Kyle Cooper)

“It’s really busy here. Things are running smoothly, but it’s busy,” Cooper recounted live on WTOP Thursday morning. “When I got here around 5 a.m. … I even had to wait to get into the parking garage. So, it was queued up a little bit there. So I thought, well, that’s an interesting sign.”

Briana Murphy is flying to Disney World with her husband and two kids. She said the hardest part of the holiday travel process — getting the kids out the door.

“That was not fun, we woke up at 3 o’clock,” Murphy said.

If you’re flying from Dulles International Airport, you might be able to at least beat the line of cars streaming into the airport. The Virginia airport reported that flyers being dropped off can enter the airport and quickly make it to the main terminal through a “Kiss & Fly” drop off area near the Dulles Metrorail Station.

WTOP’s Kyle Cooper, Luke Lukert and Valerie Bonk contributed to this report.

Emily Venezky

Emily Venezky is a digital writer/editor at WTOP. Emily grew up listening to and reading local news in Los Angeles, and she’s excited to cover stories in her chosen home of the DMV. She recently graduated from The George Washington University, where she studied political science and journalism.

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