Thanksgiving Travel Bounces Back

Thanksgiving travel will bounce back in a big way this year.

According to AAA, 53.4 million Americans will take a trip for turkey and togetherness, with nearly 290,000 Idahoans among them.

AAA predicts this year’s holiday travel volume will be just 5% below pre-pandemic levels.

This year, the Thanksgiving holiday travel period runs from Wednesday, November 24 through Sunday, November 28.

“Thanksgiving will be a continuation of the strong travel activity that we saw for Memorial Day and Independence Day this year,” AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde said. “While the COVID-19 Delta variant disrupted the trend at times, unemployment is falling, and spending power is rising. Combine that with the fact that many people couldn’t gather with loved ones last year, and you can expect the roads and airports to be pretty crowded.”

About six-and-a-half million more Americans will take a Thanksgiving trip this year than in 2020. Most will travel by car, but cleaning programs put in place by the airline industry have given millions of people the confidence to fly this year.

According to AAA, Tuesday will be the busiest (and most expensive) travel day at the airport, with Monday being the lightest and least expensive. Drivers will encounter the most traffic congestion on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon, as travelers share the road with evening commuters. Everyone should build in extra time to safely reach their destinations.

Travel by mode

More than 90% of Thanksgiving travelers will choose the convenience of traveling by car. Nearly four million more Americans will be on the road than last year.

AAA projects that air travel will increase by 80%, with 4.2 million people expected to fly this year. Air traffic volumes will be just 10% below pre-pandemic levels.

“People are getting more comfortable with flying. According to the World Health Organization, cabin air is completely changed 20 to 30 times per hour and passes through filters that remove about 99 percent of airborne particles,” Conde said. “People are finding the travel options that work for them.”

Travel by other modes is also recovering this year. More than one million Americans will go by cruise, train, or bus – a whopping 262% increase from a year ago.

Hotel prices surge, airfares drop, and car rentals tap the brakes

The price of AAA Two and Three-Diamond hotel rooms is up nearly 50% from a year ago due to increased demand. But airfares along the most popular routes dropped by an average of 26% this year. Daily rental car rates have increased 4% from a year ago, when a global semiconductor chip shortage depleted rental car fleets and triggered price spikes.

Those wanting to book last-minute flights will find the cheapest fares about two weeks before the holiday, but space may be limited – according to the Official Airline Guide, there are about 100 million fewer seats scheduled globally for this November than in 2019. AAA recommends booking an A.M. flight, as the risk of cancellations and delays increases throughout the day.

“Staffing shortages may mean reduced hotel services, fewer people at the rental car check-in counter, and possibly longer wait times in the TSA screening line,” Conde said. “The old adage rings true – the most important thing you can pack is your patience.”

Masks are required at airports, on airplanes, and at train and bus stations. Travelers should bring hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to clean high-touch surfaces on planes and in hotel rooms.

AAA travel advice

• Plan ahead. Check weather forecasts and traffic cameras before you hit the road.

• Stay alert. Get plenty of sleep before you travel. If you feel tired, pull over and rest.

• Celebrate responsibly. Never drive while under the influence of any impairing substance.

• Buckle up. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 279 crash fatalities over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2019. More than half of the people involved were unrestrained. NHTSA reports that front-seat passengers who use their seat belt reduce their risk of fatal injury by 45%.

• Pack an emergency kit with snacks, water, first-aid, flares or reflectors, and basic tools.

AAA to the rescue

AAA will respond to 375,000 calls for emergency road service nationwide, including as many as 700 here in Idaho.

“A pre-trip inspection from a trusted mechanic can help you ensure that your battery and tires are in good working order, as well as check for engine leaks and low fluid levels,” Conde said. “Along your journey, if you encounter a tow truck or emergency vehicle stopped at the roadside, please slow down below the speed limit, and move over a lane if possible. Emergency workers need plenty of room to do their job as safely and quickly as possible.”


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