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Millions of Americans plan to travel this holiday season.
Nearly 25 million passengers are expected to depart on flights from U.S. airports over the Thanksgiving travel week, from Nov. 20 to Nov. 27.
This is a 6% increase in capacity compared to 2019, according to Hopper lead economist Hayley Berg. Similarly, large numbers of travelers are also expected for the December holidays.
With so many people headed to the airports, it should come as no surprise that airport-area roads, terminals, gates, services and parking facilities will all be very crowded if you’re jetting off for the holidays.
And across the country airports are bracing for a surge in parking, warning that parking lots will be at capacity during the holidays.
“We anticipate the holidays will be busier than in 2021, just based on our current passenger activity throughout this year and the ongoing recovery of air travel from the pandemic,” says Jeff Lea, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s (MSP) manager of strategic communications, adding that even “before the holidays, we have experienced days of strong parking demand at all MSP parking ramps.”
Related: Airport parking crisis? How to save money while securing a space
In the Washington, D.C., area, crowds are expected to be the norm from Veterans Day weekend through New Year’s Day, says the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which oversees Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and Dulles International Airport (IAD).
Its advice to travelers: Plan ahead for a smooth trip, including being prepared for parking shortages.
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Here’s what to know if you’re driving to the airport for the upcoming fall and winter holidays.
Research before you leave home
Start your trip to the airport before you ever leave your home by first checking the airport website for updated parking information.
For example, this week the Chicago Department of Aviation warned travelers of traffic congestion and delays at Lot D near O’Hare Airport’s (ORD) Terminal 5 as work on a new, six-story parking garage next to the international terminal just commenced. The airport suggests passengers allow for extra time when parking, and consider additional options, such as parking farther away in Economy Lot F at the airport’s Multi-Modal Facility, which is accessible via the airport’s transit system.
At Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE), director of public affairs and marketing Harold Mester says that “with new service from JetBlue and Spirit, we are expecting a busy holiday travel season.”
He recommends that travelers download the MKE SmartPark app to reserve their holiday parking ahead of time. “This guarantees parking availability in any of our parking options. The app also allows travelers to use their smartphone to scan in and out while earning loyalty points that can be redeemed for free parking later.”
Many airports provide current parking availability on their websites, including New York’s three airports — John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) — which can help you create a parking game plan as well.
The MWAA advises departing passengers to plan to enter (not first arrive at) the terminal two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight to make it to their flights on time, which is good advice for holiday travelers at all U.S. airports.
It adds that factors such as traffic, parking availability and lines can slow a passenger’s journey when flying at popular travel times. In other words, this is not the time to try and cut things close or to leave the house late, especially if you’re going to be looking for a place to park your car at the airport, which may take substantially more time than you had allotted in the past.
Make a reservation
Parking will be in high demand — especially around weekends and holidays, notes the MWAA. One way to counter the parking crowds: Reserve your spot in advance since this will guarantee a space, even if the sign for the lot reads “full.”
“Over the past few months, we have seen an increase in parking demand at the airport and are encouraging travelers to make reservations now, as well as consider alternative ways to arrive at the airport, such as utilizing ride-share services, Metro and hotel shuttles,” said Paul Malandrino, Reagan National Airport vice president and manager.
Another thing to keep in mind is that by booking your parking and paying in advance, you can often tap into some savings. Generally, you’ll be able to save the most by booking and paying for the highest-end parking options ahead of time.
MSP’s Lea also recommends that travelers reserve their parking spot. “We always recommend travelers pre-book their parking to save and guarantee a spot, which can be extremely beneficial when there is high demand during the holiday travel season. Pre-booked parking assures travelers a $2 per day discount over drive-up rates.”
At many busy airports around the country, you may also be able to find off-site parking lots that offer shuttle rides to the airport. If you can make a reservation in advance, it’s best to do that for these facilities.
Ask in advance how often shuttles run and how long the ride to the airport should take so you can plan your transit time accordingly. Bonus: Off-site parking facilities usually offer substantial savings over parking at the airport.
Related: Maximizing rewards and discounts on airport parking
Use public transportation
Another option is to leave your car at home. In the Washington area, the MWAA recommends the Metrorail as an option to arrive at the airport without a car and avoid traffic congestion.
“The addition of the Silver Line will be a game-changer, and we are looking forward to introducing Dulles travelers to a new level of convenience as the busy holiday travel season takes off,” said Richard Golinowski, Dulles International Airport vice president and manager.
Amtrak also offers the option for travelers to get to airports without driving. This is possible through direct rail service to four U.S. airports: Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR), Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).
Take a ride
If public transportation isn’t an option at your home airport, consider booking a ride-hailing service, like Lyft or Uber, or a taxi. Due to the large number of travelers heading to the airport, it would be best to utilize the reserve features of ride-hailing apps if you choose this option.
This might not be the fastest or cheapest way to get to the airport but is better than having to look for and pay for parking. In addition, you can earn up to 10 points per dollar on Lyft with Chase through 2025. You can also earn American miles, Loyalty Points and statement credits on Uber purchases.
Related: Start checking Uber and Lyft as soon as you land
Airports will be back to 2019 passenger levels, and even higher, this holiday season. As a result, parking facilities are expected to be near capacity.
Don’t wait until the last minute to make a parking plan. Reserve a spot in advance or make arrangements to utilize alternative transportation.