Thanksgiving travel numbers at SFO climb from last year 

It’s that time of year — gluttonous holiday meals, quality time with the family and nightmare airport trips.

Travelers won’t be surprised to hear airports will be packed again this holiday season, but those who have procrastinated on purchasing tickets may be in for an extra challenge.

Click on the photo at right to see what officials predict will be the busiest airports this Thanksgiving, and average fares to and from SFO over the holiday.

Though experts predict a slight decline in the number of Thanksgiving travelers, an increase in ticket prices, a decrease in plane capacity, and holiday surcharges mean last-minute ticket deals will be harder to come by, if you can find a seat at all.

“Holidays, there’s really not a deal — airlines know when people want to travel,” said Rick Seaney, chief executive officer for Farecompare.com. “Really, the holidays are about getting a better bad deal.”

The Air Transport Association of America predicts a 2 percent decline in Thanksgiving travel, with 23.2 million people flying for the holiday, 400,000 fewer than last year.

But San Francisco International Airport won’t be seeing fewer travelers, according to SFO spokesman Michael McCarron.

“We expect more people than last year,” McCarron said.

Orbitz Worldwide, a popular travel website, ranked SFO among the country’s 10 busiest airports this Thanksgiving. The airport ranked fifth busiest last year and climbed one spot this year.

Comparatively, Mineta San Jose International Airport topped Orbitz’s list of least crowded airports this Thanksgiving.

Nationwide, fewer people may be flying next Thursday, but last-minute flights will still be hard to snag, Seaney said.

Airlines have decreased their plane capacity by an average of 4 to 6 percent in order to ensure fuller flights, which means fewer seats for last-minute buyers.

Meanwhile, a decline in demand and an increase in oil costs has caused an across-the-board increase in ticket prices, Seaney said. But on top of that, several major carriers — including US Airways, Delta, American and United/Continental — have tacked on surcharge fees, ranging from $10 to $50, for flights on the days surrounding Thanksgiving.

The best bet for die-hard procrastinators? Fly on Thanksgiving — it’s the least-traveled day of the Thanksgiving season, according to Seaney.

sgantz@sfexaminer.com

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Sarah Gantz

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