Logan International Airport, which ranks as the 20th-busiest US airport year-round, will jump to fourth-busiest for departing passengers during the Thanksgiving travel week that begins Friday, according to data from travel website Travelocity.com.
Students heading home from the area's 100-plus colleges and universities will drive Logan's traffic off the charts, and airport officials are gearing up to get through the week -- everything from extra bus and taxi service to sending out the airport's desk-jockey bureaucrats to walk the terminals and help passengers.
"This is the student rush we'll be seeing," said Jack Hemphill , airport business manager for the Massachusetts Port Authority , which runs Logan. Massport is even working up plans to deal with a quirk of the week at Logan: Students heading to the airport for flights home tend to come on the MBTA Blue Line and Silver Line, driving extra demand for on-airport shuttle buses.
But when they fly back to Boston Sunday night, thousands arrive with cab-fare money from Dad and Mom -- and demand for taxis Sunday is expected to double normal levels, Hemphill said. Massport is working with cab companies to ensure they can handle 10,000 rides Sunday, Hemphill said.
Travelocity, which made figures available to the Globe, said online bookings for the seven days starting Friday show Logan will become the fourth-busiest US airport by departures, overtaking New York's LaGuardia, Newark Liberty International, and Dallas-Fort Worth International.
Over a full year, Los Angeles International, Denver International, and Chicago O'Hare handle two to three times as many passengers as Logan.
But during the Thanksgiving week, Logan will handle 74 to 83 percent as many departing passengers as each of those much larger airports, Travelocity editor-at-large Amy Ziff said.
Looking for better fares, or simply trying to find available seats on flights that are selling out completely, travelers are continuing to push their Thanksgiving travel earlier and later in the week, Ziff said. "People have found that getting out of town earlier in the week saves them money. It's all about the dollars."
Massport expects next Tuesday to be just as busy as Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.
Based on airline and Transportation Security Administration reports, Massport anticipates 54,000 departing passengers both Tuesday and Wednesday, airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said, about 4 percent more than last year, and 53,000 departing passengers both Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving.
Many flights on heavy travel days will operate 95 to 100 percent full, compared to typical "load factors" closer to 80 percent the rest of the year, Orlandella said.
Massport is adding 20 percent more Logan Express shuttle buses from parking lots in Braintree, Framingham, Peabody, and Woburn during the busiest Thanksgiving-week travel days.
One problem Massport doesn't expect is a parking shortage. A construction project set to finally wrap up in January has added more than 1,500 spaces compared to last Thanksgiving. "This week, parking demand will be extremely heavy, but next week, the holiday week, we anticipate plenty of spaces for everybody," Hemphill said. "The business traveler isn't flying that week, and that's our primary parker."
Nationally, most airports are expecting Thanksgiving travel to be better than, or at least no worse than, last year, according to a survey by Tauck World Discovery , a Norwalk, Conn., tour operator. Responses to a survey of the 25 biggest US airports showed nearly 30 percent of airports expect better conditions than last year, 60 percent the same, and only 10 percent worse.
None of the airports responding predicted this year's Thanksgiving airport conditions would be "the worst in the past five years," company chief executive Robin Tauck said.
Peter J. Howe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.