COLUMBUS — Thanksgiving will be on the lighter side when it comes to the typical number of travelers on the roads and at airports. According to AAA, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including health concerns and high unemployment, are impacting Americans’ decisions to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. With health and government officials stressing that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick, AAA anticipates at least a 10% drop in travel nationally and at least a 9% drop in Ohio travel this Thanksgiving. This marks the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008.
Based on mid-October forecast models, AAA would have expected up to 50 million Americans, including up to 2.1 million Ohioans, to travel for Thanksgiving. That’s down from the 55 million Americans (2.3 million Ohioans) that traveled in 2019.
However, as the holiday approaches and Americans monitor the public health landscape, including rising COVID-19 positive case numbers, renewed quarantine restrictions and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel health notices, AAA expects the actual number of holiday travelers will be even lower.
“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”
Those who decide to travel are likely to drive shorter distances and reduce the number of days they are away. While the number of people on the road this Thanksgiving is expected to drop by at least 4.3% nationally and 3.1% in Ohio, automobile travel will remain the dominant form of transportation with 95% of travelers nationally, and 94% of travelers in Ohio taking a road trip this Thanksgiving. Last year, road trips accounted for 89% of Thanksgiving travel nationally and 88% in Ohio.
Before you head out, be sure your vehicle is ready for the trip to avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to rescue more than 413,000 Americans at the roadside this Thanksgiving. AAA makes it easy to request assistance — by phone, app or online — and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle.
Decrease in air travel
AAA anticipates Thanksgiving air travel volume will be down by nearly half, with 47.5% less Americans, and 46% less Ohioans, planning to fly this year. This marks the largest one-year decrease on record. For these travelers, AAA notes holiday airfares are the lowest in three years. In addition, AAA Ohio notes recent growth in air travel compared to earlier this year.
If flying, AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may not be available. Also, as a precaution, wipe down your seat, armrest, belt buckle and tray table using disinfecting wipes.
Travel by other modes, including buses, trains and cruises, is expected to decline 76% both nationally and in Ohio, as cruise ships remain docked and more travelers opt for car trips instead of taking buses or trains.
Less traffic, lower gas prices
Traffic volume is expected to be less than in years past, but travelers in major urban areas will experience increased delays at typical bottleneck areas, up to 30% above normal pandemic congestion levels. INRIX expects Wednesday afternoon to see the highest volume of traffic.
“Though fewer people will be traveling this Thanksgiving, we expect more holiday drivers than we had over the last few holidays during COVID-19,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Drivers should plan alternate routes and departure times to avoid traffic jams.”
Those who decide to hit the road for Thanksgiving will find cheaper gas prices. On average, gas prices nationally are nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year, with October averages the lowest in more than 15 years.