Travel near pre-pandemic levels expected for Thanksgiving

Travel near pre-pandemic levels expected for Thanksgiving

(CNN) — Travel over Thanksgiving is expected to reach nearly 98% of pre-pandemic volume, according to the AAA Automobile and Travel Association.

With 54.6 million people set to travel during the holiday season — a 1.5% increase from 2021 — this Thanksgiving is expected to be the third-biggest since AAA began tracking travel volume in 2000. (The number peaked in 2005 and was the second highest on the right before the pandemic in 2019.)

“With inflation and higher gas prices, this seems counterintuitive. But given how disconnected and isolated we have been for the first two years of the pandemic — and with travel restrictions now lifted — demand for travel is high,” AAA spokeswoman Aixa Diaz told CNN via email.

While gasoline is expensive — as of Monday the national average was $3.77 a gallon — gas prices are down from a month ago and well below a peak of $5 a gallon in mid-June.

Diaz said Americans are again more comfortable using public transportation, including planes and trains, and are budgeting for travel.

“They are cutting back on other areas of their lives — eating at less expensive restaurants or shopping less — and changing daily driving, grouping errands together to save on gas,” Diaz said.

“But AAA has seen no desire to back away from vacation travel. But on the contrary!”

Air travel is up 8%

The number of Americans expected to travel by air has increased nearly 8% from 2021. The 4.5 million Americans flying during the holiday season, the five-day period from Wednesday, November 23 through Sunday, November 27, is nearly 99% of 2019’s volume.

“Airport parking fills up quickly, so reserve a space ahead of time and arrive early,” Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel, said in a statement. “Expect long TSA queues. Avoid checking one bag if possible to have more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule.”

And while just about everything feels more expensive these days, according to Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, airfares are going down.

Airfare “bottomed out” for about two years from about March 2020 to March 2022, Keyes said. In the spring, things went “really high”.

“Since then it’s kind of fallen back to earth and now if you squint it looks essentially normal. It looks like it was before the pandemic,” Keyes said.

That’s not to say it’s not more expensive than last year. “Even adjusted for inflation, fares are 34% higher today than they were 12 months ago,” Keyes said.

Flight information will be displayed at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 3, 2022.  Hundreds of flights have been canceled ahead of the 4th of July weekend in the US.

Flight information will be displayed at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 3, 2022. Hundreds of flights have been canceled ahead of the 4th of July weekend in the US.

John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx/AP

With demand as high as this holiday season, many air travelers are bracing for disruption after cancellations and delays ravaged the summer season.

Airlines have been “doing everything we can to prepare,” Nick Calio, president and CEO of industry group Airlines for America, told CNN’s Pete Muntean.

“They adjusted their schedules, they hired tons, put people in the right places that we hope will be at the right time,” he said.

Calio’s biggest concern?

“I’m worried about the weather. I always worry about the weather because it’s the number one thing that can ruin a flight or flight pattern, but I think we’re flexible enough now that if there are any cancellations or delays, we’ll be there willing to try and get people where they want to go.”

Traffic slows down on the Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, November 24, 2021.

Traffic slows down on the Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, November 24, 2021.

Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Most travelers will drive

Most travelers will drive to their destinations – as has been the case in the past. Almost 49 million people are expected to arrive by car this year. That is 2.5% less than in 2019, but 0.4% more than in the previous year. The AAA forecast accounts for trips 50 miles or more from home.

The highways are expected to be heavily congested, particularly in the major metropolitan areas. Mobility insights company INRIX recommends traveling early on Wednesday mornings or before 11am on Thanksgiving Day to avoid the busiest times leading up to the bank holiday weekend. And try to avoid Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 4pm and 8pm

Travel by other modes of transport is also approaching pre-pandemic levels.

More than 1.4 million travelers are expected to travel by bus, train or cruise ship during the Thanksgiving holiday — 96% of 2019’s volume.

Pictured above: Travelers wait at a security checkpoint at Orlando International Airport during the Thanksgiving holiday season in 2021. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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