Expect busy roadways, airports if you’re traveling for Christmas

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, December 19, 2023

If you’re traveling for the holidays, leave early and expect delays.

The American Automobile Association, also known as AAA, said in a press release that it that 115.2 million travelers will head 50 or more miles from home between Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023, to Monday, Jan. 1, 2024.   

Statewide, AAA is also projecting a record-setting 3.6 million Georgians will travel for the holidays, with both car (3.3 million) and air travel (193,890) up slightly from last year’s forecast.

Nationwide, year’s total number of domestic travelers is a 2.2% increase over last year and the second highest year-end travel forecast since 2000, when AAA began tracking holiday travel. The year 2019 remains the busiest Christmas and New Year’s travel period on record with 119 million travelers.

“This year-end holiday forecast, with an additional 2.5 million travelers compared to last year, mirrors what AAA Travel has been observing throughout 2023,” said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel. “More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places.”

AAA expects nearly 104 million people will drive to their holiday destinations, an increase of 1.8% compared to 2022. This year’s projected number of drivers is the second highest on record after 2019 when 108 million drivers hit the road for the holidays.

As 2023 comes to a close, drivers can expect to pay about the same or less for a gallon of gas than they did last holiday season, when the national average on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day was $3.10 and $3.20 respectively.

AAA said it expects airports to be the busiest they’ve ever been over the Christmas and New Year’s travel period. AAA projects 7.5 million air travelers this holiday season, surpassing 2019’s record of 7.3 million passengers. Average ticket prices are slightly lower than last year. According to AAA booking data, the average price for a roundtrip ticket to Orlando this holiday season is $613, down from $735 last year. A roundtrip ticket to Las Vegas is $508 now compared to $705 in 2022.

“It depends on your desired route and destination. There are last-minute deals to be found, but if your preference is a nonstop flight with seat selection, AAA recommends booking well in advance and protecting your investment with travel insurance,” Twidale added. 

The number of people traveling by other modes, like bus, train, and cruise, is projected to surpass 2019. AAA expects more than 4 million Americans will take alternative transportation over Christmas and New Year’s compared to 3.66 million in 2022 and 3.89 million in 2019.

Demand for cruises has skyrocketed post-pandemic, and the industry is now preparing for the wave of bookings that traditionally happens at the start of the new year.

“Savvy travelers know that right after the holidays is the best time to book a cruise,” Twidale said. “That’s when cruise lines offer some of the best deals, and AAA members get exclusive benefits in addition to those discounts.”

INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, said there will be several days of potentially bad traffic during the 10-day holiday period. Saturday, December 23, and Thursday, December 28, will be the most congested days on the road. INRIX also said Saturday, December 30, when many people will be heading back home from their holiday destinations or traveling for New Year’s Eve, will see an increase in traffic compared to a normal Saturday. The best times to hit the road are before lunchtime or after 7 p.m.

“Nationwide, drivers could see travel times up to 20% longer this holiday season. In major metros, especially in Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC, drivers could experience nearly double the typical delays,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Avoid peak commuting hours and use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services to minimize holiday travel traffic frustrations.”

The Transportation Security Administration said in a press release that travelers should arrive a minimum of two hours before their scheduled domestic flights and three hours before scheduled international flights.

TSA said if you find yourself waiting in a security checkpoint lane, use that time to your advantage, noting it’s an ideal time to remove items from your pockets and place them into a carry-on bag. It’s also the time to get out your ID and boarding pass so you’re not fumbling in your wallet for your ID when you step up to the TSA travel document checking podium.

“Planning ahead and packing properly can facilitate the TSA security screening process and ease a passenger’s travel experience at the airport,” said Bart R. Johnson, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Upstate New York, in a press release. “That’s why it is important to know what can be packed in carry-on and/or checked baggage before arriving at the airport.”