AAA predicts 53.4 million will travel for holiday

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Thanksgiving travel will be back to near pre-pandemic levels this week, according to the American Automobile Association.

AAA said in a press release that it anticipated that 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. That brings travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019. AAA said air travel will nearly recover from its dramatic fall during the pandemic, up 80% over last year. AAA urges travelers to be proactive when making their travel plans this holiday season.

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel, in a press release. “Now that the borders are open 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 holiday.”

The company said with 6.4 million more people traveling this Thanksgiving coupled with the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers — people should prepare for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded.

AAA said most will travel by automobile (48.3 million), but it sees air traffic almost doubling from 2020 (4.2 million compared to 2.3 million).

“International travel re-opening will allow people to reconnect with friends and family and explore new places, while also giving a much-needed boost to the economy,” Twidale said. “But it also means airports will be busier than we’ve seen, so travelers must plan for long lines and extra time for TSA checks.”

Even with air travel seeing a boost this year, AAA said that the average lowest airfare is 27.3% less than last year coming in at $132. Tuesday and Wednesday are still the most expensive and heaviest travel days with Monday being the lightest and least expensive. Those wanting to book last-minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks prior to Thanksgiving but keep in mind availability may be limited.

Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 39%, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172 for AAA Approved Hotels.

Daily car rental rates have increased 4% compared to last Thanksgiving at $98. Over the summer, consumers experienced high costs and limited availability of rental cars in some markets, due to the semi-conductor chip shortage impacting automakers. While this shortage has subsided, it is possible it could return as the holidays near.

Be Patient. The roads and airports will be busy so plan ahead.

To allow for anticipated increase in holiday traffic, the Georgia Department of Transportation (Georgia DOT) also announced the suspension of lane closures on Georgia interstates and state routes beginning Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28. These statewide lane closure restrictions will help to reduce traffic congestion during the Thanksgiving holiday. Similar restrictions will be in place for Christmas and New Year’s.

While construction related lane closures will be suspended, the department advised travelers to exercise caution as crews may still work near highways, and safety concerns may require some long-term lane closures to remain in place. In addition, incident management or emergency, maintenance-related lane closures could become necessary at any time on any route.

“By limiting lane closures during the holiday season, we hope to promote a safer, less congested traveling experience,” said Georgia DOT State Construction Engineer John D. Hancock. “Unfortunately, we have seen a noticeable increase in motor vehicle fatalities nationwide due to distracted driving, speeding and driving under the influence. This holiday season and always, we encourage all drivers to put down the cellphones, buckle up, slow down and drive sober.”

Based on travel volume data following Labor Day Weekend 2021, GDOT also predicted that Thanksgiving travel volumes will return to pre-pandemic levels this year. GDOT said Thanksgiving travel data from 2019 and 2020 for major interstates outside of metro Atlanta have shown the following trends starting from the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 24 to early evening of Sunday, Nov. 28: 

4 I-20 eastbound congestion on Wednesday, Nov. 24 heading into metro Atlanta; westbound congestion Sunday, Nov. 28 heading out of the city towards Alabama.

4 I-24 is expected to have eastbound congestion

4 I-75 is predicted to have heavy congestion southbound and northbound coming out of Atlanta in Stockbridge.

4I-85 congestion near the South Carolina and Alabama borders

4 I-95 northbound congestion in Savannah

4 In addition, the Thanksgiving travel forecast for metro Atlanta interstates is:

4 Heavy congestion on Friday, Nov. 19, prior to typical Thanksgiving travel days

4 Heaviest traffic and congestion on Wednesday, Nov. 24 between the hours of 12 p.m. and 6 p.m.

4 Light traffic beginning Thursday, Nov. 25 until Saturday, Nov. 27