Nearly the same amount of planes are in the air above North America ahead of Thanksgiving this year compared to last year. Here's what that looks like.

Nearly the same amount of planes are in the air above North America ahead of Thanksgiving this year compared to last year. Here's what that looks like.
An Alaska Airlines Airbus A320.Angel
  • Millions of people are flying ahead of Thanksgiving this week, and Flightradar24, a live air travel tracker, shows what that looks like.
  • Although the airlines are seeing their busiest stretch yet since March, air travel is still at a fraction of last year's levels.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control is advising that people avoid Thanksgiving travel to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.

US public health officials have a blunt message for the public as Thanksgiving approaches: stay home.

But flight data shows that people are taking to the skies by the millions in the week leading up to turkey day — and a live map from Flightradar24 shows exactly what that spike in air travel looks like.

Flightradar24 accesses government air traffic control data and other sources to track thousands of passenger aircraft around the globe. The firm shared stills Tuesday showing how the number of active flights in the sky above North America at 12 p.m. on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving stacks up to years past. According to Flightradar24's data, the number — 6,972 — was lower than last year, but slightly more than 2018.

Of course, the number of aircraft in the sky doesn't tell the whole story of how many people are actually on board those planes, and air traffic also includes private jet and cargo planes. Transportation Security Administration checkpoint data give a better sense of how many people actually fly on a given day.

According to the agency, more than 900,000 people passed through its checkpoints Monday, and just over 1 million did so Sunday, capping off the busiest weekend for US air travel since March. In total, the TSA counted more than 3 million travelers between Friday and Sunday.


Holiday travel statistics show that air travel has bounced back significantly from its low point last spring — on April 14, the TSA screened 87,534 passengers, as compared with more than 2.2 million on the same day in 2019. The agency counted more than 1 million travelers on Friday and on Sunday, marking only the second and third times that air travel has exceeded that milestone since the pandemic hit the US.

But air travel is still down drastically from 2019 levels. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving last year, the TSA saw well over 2 million passengers daily. On the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2019, the TSA screened approximately 2.25 million people, more than double the roughly 917,000 it screened Monday.

Read more: How we travel now: a guide for getting from here to there in a suddenly static world

Still, the US Centers for Disease Control is advising against any Thanksgiving travel this year, as the country continues to report roughly 200,000 new COVID-19 cases each day. The agency recommends instead that people host virtual gatherings or delay their plans.

"As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with," the CDC said.