Thanksgiving air travel at SWFL International Airport

Reporter: Taylor Wirtz Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
A crowd of travelers at Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW). Credit: WINK News

Lots of people are packing up to take planes to visit family for Thanksgiving. Good news for anyone flying out of Southwest Florida International Airport in the next few days: Experts say it should be less stressful leaving than returning.

Even though it’s not the largest, RSW is the number one airport in the U.S. in terms of its resurgence. Southwest Florida is busier than it’s ever been, and other parts of the country are still working to catch up. This is going to mean a hectic next few days, not just at the airport, but all over the region at hotels, restaurants and anywhere else visitors might go.

Dr. Jase Ramsey, associate professor of management at Florida Gulf Coast University, says people arriving at RSW need to be prepared to handle more stress than they normally would this time of year.

“We’re seeing unprecedented travel and traffic in… not so much the country, but in our region, I think… of the five cities that have bounced back the fastest, RSW, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale are, all three, in the top five,” Ramsey said. “People are coming to Florida right now in droves, so we need to be more prepared than we usually are.”

Ramsey’s advice is to arrive early, have patience and try to take a nonstop flight wherever you’re going.

But are the airlines prepared to accommodate the increase in passengers?

RSW is certainly more crowded than you’re probably used to seeing it, but still very manageable at the moment. One hears a lot about unruly passengers these days, but the travelers WINK News spoke to were all in high spirits. They say everything has been a lot smoother than they thought it would be—though there can be a bit of a wait at security—and they’ve never seen the parking garage as full as it’s been.

Many of them are from colder parts of the country and say they jumped at the chance to venture down to sunny Southwest Florida for their holiday. Travel experts say Florida being more open and a great deal warmer than much of the country is creating the perfect storm to make our airport busier than ever. Despite this, travelers say it’s ultimately worth all the stress if it means spending time with family, especially after a tough few years apart.

“It’s great to feel like we can travel; last year, we didn’t feel like we could,” said Kevin McAllister. “We’ve got four grandchildren—two in Madison and two in Chicago, and, you know, 9 and 11, both of both ages—and that was really hard, being separated from them for that whole time and not being able to get together for family gatherings. So we’re really looking forward to this year.”

Extra security lines have been set up for overflow. RSW issued a memo a few days ago urging anyone flying out of the airport to arrive at least two hours early in anticipation of crowds.

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