AAA forecasts a 13% increase in travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year with 53.4 million Americans planning to take a trip.
Travel volumes will be within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
In Florida, AAA predicts nearly 2.9 million people will travel, which is also a 13% increase over 2020.
“It’s beginning to look more like a normal holiday travel season, compared to what we say last year,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of Travel for AAA — The Auto Club Group. “Now that U.S. borders are open, vaccinations are readily available and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holidays.”
AAA says roadways and airports will be more crowded this year. Road travel is expected to increase by 6% and domestic air travel is expected to be up by 80% over last year.
In the U.S. 48.3 are expected to travel by automobile, 4.2 million are expected to fly and 1 million will use another means of transportation. In Florida, 2.63 million are expected to take a road trip, 191,662 will fly and 32,103 will take a bus, train or maybe a cruise.
“The reopening of the U.S. borders to international travelers means airports will be even busier that we’ve recently seen, so travelers must plan for longer lines and extra time for TSA (Transportation Security Administration) checks,” Haas said. “With flight delays and cancellations becoming a problem lately, air travelers are encouraged to consider travel insurance. If you flight is canceled, there are various policies that can help offset unexpected expenses, like hotel, transportation and food. You may also receive compensation for lost luggage.”
Despite the expected increase in air travel, AAA says the average airfare is 27.3% less than last year, coming in at $132. The most expensive days to fly are Tuesday and Wednesday. Monday and Thursday are expected to have the fewest travelers and be the least expensive.
Gas prices began to go up in October and there are no signs that will change significantly before Thanksgiving. The national average for a gallon of regular was $3.413 on Nov. 14, and the average price for gasoline in Florida was $3.27. The average price in Pinellas County was $3.23.
AAA says Thanksgiving gas prices haven’t been as high as those averages since 2013. The state average on Nov. 26, 2020 was $2.03 a gallon and $2.44 on Thanksgiving Day.
“Since many Floridians were unable to travel last year, it is unlikely that higher gas prices will keep them from hitting the holiday road in 2021,” said Mark Jenkins, AAA spokesman. “Gas prices do not typically make the difference of whether Floridians will travel or not. However, they could impact how far some are willing to drive, while others may need to reallocate more of their travel budget to gasoline and spend less on meals, shopping and dining out.”
INRIX, which does transportation data analytics and AAA predict that the worst traffic congestion will be around major metro areas. Wednesday from noon to 8 p.m. will be the busiest with roadways emptying out some after 9 p.m. Other days, Thursday-Sunday, travelers will find the least traffic in the mornings before 11 a.m. and before noon.
AAA recommends that travelers be proactive and book flights, car rentals, accommodations and activities as soon as possible. Arrive at the airport early so you’ll have enough time to get through the TSA checkpoints. AAA suggested arriving two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for flights going to international destinations.
Two of the nine most popular travel destinations are in Florida: Orlando and Tampa, which we know includes Pinellas due to its beaches. Be prepared for congestion on the beach.
“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” said Bob Pishue, travel analyst for INRIX. “Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon. Knowing when and where congestion will build up can help drivers avoid stress of sitting in traffic.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out guidance for travelers with the first on the list to delay travel until you a fully vaccinated. Travelers also should check the situation at their destination, which might have restrictions in place.
Wearing a mask over your mouth and nose is required in indoor areas of public transportation, including airplanes, airports, buses and bus terminals. Social distance as much as possible and use hand sanitizer. Do not travel if exposed to COVID-19, if you are sick or if you test positive for COVID-19. If you are not fully vaccinated but must travel, get tested before and after your trip.