Combination of Thanksgiving, Formula 1 Grand Prix causes congestion issues at airport

David Maly

Six cargo planes bound for Brazil and loaded with Formula 1 cars and equipment departed from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Monday, as officials transition from the challenge of Formula 1 travelers to the annual Thanksgiving rush.

Jason Zielinski, Austin-Bergstrom spokesman, said with added Thanksgiving and Formula 1 airport traffic, the wait time could be roughly an hour for many passengers, and they should arrive two hours early as an extra precaution through the period up to and following Thanksgiving. 

“Overall, Thanksgiving is always the busiest holiday at the airport,” Zielinski said. “The scenario is that most people get four days off, and with it being a big family holiday, they often like to fly home.” 

He said because people tend to have less time off for Thanksgiving than other holidays, they tend to travel on the same days, usually departing on the day before or on Thanksgiving and flying back Sunday.

Airport officials advise passengers to arrive at least two hours early if departing Sunday or Monday after the holiday. 

Zielinski said wait times last year peaked at an hour, and wait times during the regular travel season normally get up to 45 minutes.

He said although most who flew into town for this past weekend’s Formula 1 festivities were expected to fly back this past Sunday and Monday, some will be flying back during the heavy Thanksgiving travel days, worsening congestion. 

He said because this is the first year Austin has held a Formula 1 Grand Prix, it is hard to predict how it will continue to affect air travel.

Zielinski said there was a spike in the number of personal aircraft traveling into the area during Formula 1 that was not seen during other major Austin festivals including the Austin City Limits Music Festival and South By Southwest.

He said to better handle congestion, Austin-Bergstrom added an extra checkpoint with four additional Transportation Security Administration lanes and now has four checkpoints and 15 security lanes.

He said airport traffic has risen by roughly 3.5 percent when compared to this time last year. 

Zielinski said air travel has declined nationwide, but because Austin’s economy has remained strong, air travel in the city has increased.

Austin-Bergstrom officials advise passengers to frequently check their flight’s status for cancellations and delays.