Get ready for a busy Thanksgiving travel season

Get ready for a busy Thanksgiving travel season

(CNN) — Travel during Thanksgiving is expected to reach nearly 98% of pre-pandemic volume, according to the AAA auto and travel club.

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

“It seems counter-intuitive given inflation and rising gas prices. But given how separated and isolated we were in the first 2 years of the pandemic – and with travel restrictions now lifted — travel demand is high,” AAA spokeswoman Aixa Diaz told CNN via email.

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

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

“They’re cutting back on spending in other areas of their lives — dining at cheaper restaurants or doing less shopping — and modifying their daily driving by condensing their errands to save gas,” Diaz said.

“But AAA hasn’t felt the desire to cut back on leisure travel. In fact, quite the opposite!”

Air travel increased by 8%

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

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

And while almost everything seems more expensive these days, airfares are leveling off, according to Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

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

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

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

Flight information is displayed at Newark Liberty International Airport on July 3, 2022. Hundreds of flights were canceled across the United States ahead of the July 4 weekend.

John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx/AP

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

Airlines have been “exceeding expectations in trying to prepare,” Nick Calio, president and CEO of industry group Airlines for America, told CNN’s Pete Muntean.

“They’ve adjusted their schedules, they’ve hired, put people in the right places and hopefully they’ll 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 first 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’ll be ready to try to get people where they want to go.”

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

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

Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Most travelers drive

Most travelers will get to their destination by car, as they always have. This year, nearly 49 million people are expected to travel by car. That’s 2.5% below 2019 levels, but up 0.4% from a year ago. AAA forecasts are for trips 50 miles or more from home.

Freeways are expected to be very busy, especially in major metropolitan areas. Mobility analytics firm INRIX suggests traveling early in the morning on Wednesdays or before 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to avoid the busiest times before the holiday weekend. And try to avoid Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 4 p.m. 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 over the Thanksgiving holiday, or 96% of 2019 volume.

Top image: Travelers line up 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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