Travel near pre-pandemic levels expected for Thanksgiving

(CNN) — Trips during Thanksgiving are expected to reach nearly 98% of pre-pandemic volume, according to automotive and travel club AAA.

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

“It seems counterintuitive given inflation and higher gas prices. But given how segregated and isolated we were during the first 2 years of the pandemic — and now that travel restrictions have been lifted — demand for travel is high,” AAA spokesperson Aixa said. Diaz to CNN via email.

While gas is expensive — on Monday the national average per gallon was $3.77 — gas prices are lower than a month ago and well below the peak of $5 per gallon in mid-June.

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

“They’re cutting back on other areas of their lives — eating out at cheaper restaurants or shopping less — and changing everyday driving by running errands to save gas,” Diaz said.

“But AAA has seen no desire to withdraw from holiday travel. On the contrary!”

Air travel is up 8%

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

“Airport parking lots fill up quickly, so reserve a spot in advance and arrive early,” Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel, said in a statement. “Anticipate long TSA lines. If possible, avoid checking a bag to provide more flexibility if flights are delayed or you need to reschedule.”

And while pretty much everything feels more expensive these days, airfare is actually stabilizing, according to Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Airline tickets “bottomed out” for about two years from about March 2020 to March 2022, Keyes said. Then it “really zoomed in” in the spring.

“Since then it’s kind of come back down to Earth and now, if you squint, it looks basically normal. It looks like it was pre-pandemic,” Keyes said.

That is not to say that it is not more expensive than last year. “Even adjusted for inflation, the airfare today is 34% higher than it was 12 months ago,” Keyes said.

Flight information is displayed at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 3, 2022. Hundreds of flights were canceled in the US ahead of the fourth weekend in July.

Flight information is displayed at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 3, 2022. Hundreds of flights were canceled in the US ahead of the fourth weekend in July.

John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx/AP

With demand so high during the holiday season, many air travelers are gearing up for disruption following the cancellations and delays that plagued the summer season.

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

“They’ve been adjusting their schedules, they’ve been doing hiring binges, putting people in the right places that we hope will be at the right time,” he said.

Calio’s biggest concern?

“I worry about the weather. I always worry about the weather because that’s the number one thing that can ruin a flight or a flight pattern, but again I think we’re flexible enough now that if there are any cancellations or delays , we will.” be 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 destination – as has historically been the case. Nearly 49 million people are expected to travel by car this year. That is 2.5% below the level of 2019, but 0.4% more than last year. AAA’s forecast looks at trips that are 50 miles or more from home.

Highways are expected to be busy, especially in major metropolitan areas. Mobility insight firm INRIX recommends traveling early on Wednesday or before 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to avoid the most hectic times heading into the holiday weekend. And try to avoid Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 4 and 8 p.m

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 Thanksgiving, 96% of the volume in 2019.

Top image: Travelers wait in line at a security checkpoint at Orlando International Airport during the 2021 Thanksgiving travel season. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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