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Thanksgiving passenger numbers soar at Little Rock’s airport

A plane takes off from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
David Goldman
A plane takes off from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

While thousands of Arkansans are already on their way to their holiday destinations, air travel is expected to heat up in the coming days.

Passenger numbers from the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock show just under 41,000 people are expected to pass through for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Airport spokesperson Shane Carter says they have been busier than usual, but things are running smoothly.

“Our busiest day is actually projected to be [the] Sunday after Thanksgiving, the 27th. People typically head to their destinations on all different days before the holidays, but a lot of them come back on the same days,” Carter said.

Projections from the Transportation Security Administration predict 40,768 people will pass through Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in the 10-day period ending Sunday, Nov. 27. That’s a 14.5% increase over last year’s total of 35,600 passengers for the same time period.

Carter says the elevated passenger numbers could be in part due to a new direct flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which launched earlier this month.

“And that really speaks to where we are in terms of recovery from COVID and passengers coming back to the airport, because airlines would not put the service in if there was not demand for it,” Carter said. “We look forward to not only passengers using it for the holiday season but into the first of the year, particularly business passengers at this point.”

Almost 5,000 people are forecast to be arriving or departing on Sunday alone, according to the TSA. Carter urges passengers to arrive at least two hours before their scheduled departure time.

“It is still interesting to see that people arrive here 30 or 40 minutes before their flight… you do not want to do that, especially during the holiday time. Many of the flights are full,” Carter said, adding the airport’s TSA checkpoint opens at 3:45 a.m. and airline ticket counters open two hours before departure times.

He says passengers should take precautions when packing gifts, and avoid wrapping them to help cut down delays at the security checkpoint. Aside from Sunday, Clinton National Airport is expecting Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday to be the busiest travel days.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.