Busiest travel day of the year “smooth sailing” in Sioux Falls

Both airline and road travel are up from last year, and Wednesday's weather helped make for a safe day
Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 6:47 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving are often the busiest travel days of the year, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

While record numbers of people stayed home for the holidays during the worst times of the pandemic, over 54 million people to hit the airways and roads today through Sunday. Some in the traveling industry call 8 percent spike in airline travel from this time last year “revenge travel.”

With 4.5 million people flying to eat their turkey and dressing, American airports were expected to be zoos on Wednesday — so much so that some U.S. airlines were cancelling flights to avoid delays and chaos.

But those traveling to Sioux Falls from major hubs found almost nothing but friendly skies.

”We were preparing ourselves for the worst today, but it’s been smoothing sailing,“ said Sioux Falls native Katie Kilbride.

She lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband and three kids, and the five of them landed in her hometown of Sioux Falls on time Wednesday, ready to see Kilbride’s parents and other relatives for five days.

“We fly a lot and have been through a lot of bad travel nightmares,” Kilbride said. “Recently, coming back from California, we were delayed eight hours.”

But Wednesday, they arrived at hectic Reagan Airport at 4:30 a.m. — “Reagan is usually crazy” — for their 6:00 flight. Even the parking was easier than expected. The flight landed on time in bustling Chicago O’Hare, one of the busiest airports in the world.

“Everything was great,” Kilbride said. “Chicago — I’ve never had good luck in Chicago. I had great luck in Chicago (today).”

The Kilbride’s knew they were rolling the dice by flying cross-country today to see relatives in Sioux Falls, but, “it’s worth it,” Katie said. “We’re here. There were no delays and no cancellations.”

The same could be said for all of the Sioux Falls airport’s flights today — for both departures and arrivals. No routes were cancelled. Mostly clear skies and/or dry and mild weather in all connecting cities — including Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Minneapolis, Mesa (AZ), and Fort Lauderdale — meant little to zero turbulence for takeoff, landings, and everything in between.

Kelly Shea’s flight from Bozeman, Montana, to Minneapolis landed late and caused some tension.

“We had 15 minutes to catch our flight (to Sioux Falls),” Shea said. “We were in one end of the terminal to the other. We had to book it down to the flight, but everything went smooth. Flights were good.”

The Sheas are in Sioux Falls to visit Kelly’s mother-in-law. In the past, they have driven here, but a major storm on their most recent trip meant the closure of an interstate stretch and a 23-hour “loopy” journey on the way back.

So, despite tickets that were “way more expensive” than, say, in 2020 — when airplanes and airports were empty because of Covid-19 scares, driving down both demand and prices — Shea said taking flight was worth it because they didn’t want to drive this time.

But 49 million Americans will commute more than 50 miles by road the next few days, despite gas prices being higher than last year.

Thanksgiving is the third-most dangerous holiday when it comes to drunk driving, with a 56 percent higher risk of injury or death because of impaired drivers on roads that are commonly more crowded.

Speeding violations, and tickets, also spike in South Dakota on Thanksgiving weekend — especially when dry weather means safer road conditions, according to the state highway patrol’s operations major.

“People are just wanting to get to their destinations faster,” Joel Peterson said. “They’re speeding. That’s one of the biggest things, when you have nice weather, people will tend to pick the speed up just a little bit. And that’s not what we want.”

The main components to making your destination safely, Peterson said, is obeying the speed limits, not drinking and driving, wearing seat belts, and drivers focusing on nothing but the road.

“Don’t be texting and driving,” Peterson said. “Hands free phones — if you have them, please use them.”

The worst times to hit the roads this weekend are between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Thursday — when almost everyone else is headed to their Thanksgiving gathering — and between 4 and 8 p.m. on Friday through Sunday, when most people are headed back.

So, if you’re a Thanksgiving guest and driving back home, perhaps leave earlier in the day, or watch some extra football or have a few more leftovers before you leave.