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Columbus airport expects busy holiday travel season as record number of people fly nationwide

An airline passenger pulling a rolling carry on bag walks toward escalators under a "Columbus" sign.
James D DeCamp
Columbus Regional Airport Authority
The Columbus John Glenn International Airport.

The American Automobile Association expects about 115.2 million people in the U.S. to travel more than 50 miles from home over this year’s 10-day holiday period that includes Christmas and New Year's Eve.

It’s the second-highest travel forecasted since AAA started keeping track in 2000. The record year of travel is from 2019.

While holiday drivers will be the largest group at 103.6 million travelers, a record number of people are expected to take to the skies.

AAA expects airports to be the busiest they’ve ever been over the Christmas and New Year's Eve travel period, with 7.5 million people flying this holiday season.

Here in Columbus, more than 200,000 airline seats were booked for departure between Dec. 20 and Jan. 2 at Columbus John Glenn International Airport and Rickenbacker Airport’s passenger terminal.

The Columbus Regional Airport Authority said that’s an 11% increase from last year’s holiday travel. Thursday, Dec. 21, had the most seats booked at about 17,000, followed by Friday, Dec. 22, with 15,900 seats booked. Dec. 27 and Jan. 2 are also expected to be very busy days at the airport.

Airport officials say air travelers at Columbus John Glenn International can expect to find musical performances, a 16-foot-tall holiday tree and the airport’s volunteer Paw Force One therapy dogs on site.

Air travelers should arrive at least 90 minutes before domestic flights and two hours before international flights and also check destinations for potential winter weather, airport officials said.

The Transportation Security Administration said it’s prepared for “sustained higher volumes” of passengers during the winter holiday. TSA screened nearly 30 million passengers during November’s 12-day Thanksgiving holiday period and broke the record for most passengers in a single day on Nov. 26., screening 2.9 million passengers at security checkpoints nationwide, the agency said in a news release.

AAA noted that average airline tickets prices are slightly lower this year than last, but cost depends on the destination. The national average price for a round-trip ticket to Orlando this holiday season is $613, down from $735 last year. A round-trip ticket to Las Vegas is $508 now, compared to $705 in 2022, AAA reports.

The number of people traveling by bus, train and cruise ship is expected to surpass 2019 by about 3.66 million, AAA said.

Top domestic holiday destinations this year include Orlando, Fla.; Anaheim, Calif.; Chicago, Ill.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Miami, Fla. Top international destinations include London, St. Thomas and Aruba.

Allie Vugrincic is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She comes to Columbus from her hometown of Warren, Ohio, where she was a reporter, features writer and photographer for four years at the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator newspapers.