Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast

by Gwen Newell

Opposite of last year’s forecast, AAA is predicting a strong rebound to Thanksgiving travel this holiday season, as more than 53 million people are expected to travel. This is the highest single-year increase since 2005, bringing travel volumes within 5% of the pre-pandemic levels for the 2019 holiday. (To view the full report click here)

The gap is closing even faster in the Carolinas, as total travel figures are only 2% below pre-pandemic levels. AAA predicts nearly 1.5 million North Carolinians and nearly 753,000 South Carolinians will travel for Thanksgiving, a 13% rebound from the total number of travelers during the 2020 holiday.

With 6.4 million more Americans traveling this Thanksgiving (178,000 more North Carolinians and 98,000 more South Carolinians), people should prepare for the roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded than last year’s holiday. AAA predicts road travel to increase 8%. Yet the most notable improvement this year’s holiday is domestic air travel, which has almost completely recovered from its dramatic drop-off during the pandemic and is up 80% from last year.

This year’s forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005, bringing travel volumes close to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Despite gasoline costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of people plan to travel by car as their preferred mode of transportation. Although the car is still the most popular choice for travelers, a greater share will opt to travel by air and other modes such as bus, train or cruise this year. Whether you plan to do so by car or plane, it’s important to know how to navigate the new travel landscape to avoid unnecessary stress and challenges on the way to your Thanksgiving destination.

You can do this by first being patient. The roads and airports will be busy so it’s critical to plan ahead as much as possible. Hit the road when there’s less traffic and allow for extra time when traveling to your destination. This also means arriving at the airport early so you’ll have plenty of time to get through longer TSA lines and other travel checkpoints. For domestic travel, AAA suggests 2 hours ahead of departure time and 3 hours for international.

Lastly, be prepared for the road. For the 48.3 million Americans hitting the road, make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the trip ahead. AAA expects to respond to over 400,000 calls for help over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The most common calls are for dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts.

Before any long trip, AAA suggests getting an inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels. However, if your vehicle has been sitting idle these systems are particularly vulnerable to deteriorating especially without proper care or maintenance. Locate a AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility near you.

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