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Heavy travel forecast for long holiday weekend

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Holiday travels

Individuals stretch their legs as they walk into the Tennessee Welcome Center Tuesday afternoon.

Holiday travel over the long Thanksgiving weekend is forecast to be among the busiest in recent years, both in this region and across the U.S.

AAA forecasts more than 1.4 million Virginians and 1.2 million Tennessee residents will travel 50 miles or more during the Thanksgiving period, between Wednesday and Sunday. That would be about 5-6% less than 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a written statement.

More than 91% of those travelers, or about 1.3 million Virginians, will be driving to their holiday destination. In Tennessee, 1.2 million will take a road trip; an increase of 12,000 people from last year’s holiday. Both are slightly less than the number of travelers hitting the road back in 2019.

“Travel is still roaring back from the pandemic,” Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA – the Auto Club Group, said in a statement. “While gas prices and other inflationary pressures weigh on budgets, travel remains a top priority for Americans, particularly during the holidays. Travel spending is at the highest level since the pandemic began, which is a driving force behind our projections this year. AAA expects busy roads and long lines at the airport, so leave early and be flexible with your travel plans.”

Despite higher prices than last year, 89% of all Thanksgiving travelers will drive. AAA forecasts 48.6 million Americans are planning a holiday road trip.

“Gas prices are about 20 cents higher than they were leading into the holiday at this time last year, but drivers don’t seem fazed,” Morgan Dean, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson, said in a written statement. “Virginia’s current gas price average is $3.41, down a dime in the past week and down $1.45 from the all-time record state high of $4.86 set back on June 14.

Motorists nationwide are getting a break at the pump as prices have declined over the past week and even lower prices are forecast for this weekend, AAA analysts said.

Air travel also continues to rebound from the pandemic.

Thanksgiving travelers are also likely to find long lines at the airport. Nationwide, air travel is up nearly 8% from last year, with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations this year. That’s an increase of more than 330,000 air passengers and nearly 99% of the 2019 volume.

AAA projects about 98,000 Virginians will take to the skies, up 6% from the holiday in 2021, but still down about 13% fewer from 2019 when more than 112,000 jetted off to their holiday destination, according to AAA.

AAA encourages air travelers to check-in early online, monitor flight status using your air carrier’s mobile app and try to arrive two to three hours before scheduled departure times. It’s a good idea to pack medications and an extra set of clothes in a carry-on bag, just in case a flight is delayed or canceled.

“Consistent with what we have been seeing throughout the year at AAA, the demand for travel has continued and the Thanksgiving holiday is certainly no exception,” Dean said. “Despite increased costs across the board, people are making plans and finding ways to spend time with family and friends.”

For those who are driving, AAA says the most congested travel times will likely be between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., Wednesday; 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Thursday and between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., Friday through Sunday.

AAA urges motorists to travel earlier in the morning or later in the evening to avoid peak congestion.

AAA estimates that it will rescue more than 400,000 stranded motorists nationwide during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend including more than 6,500 in Virginia. Drivers are reminded to always slow down and move over for AAA roadside assistance vehicles, tow trucks, police, other emergency first responders and the motorists they are assisting on the side of the road.

Before any long trip, AAA suggests motorists get their vehicle inspected, especially key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels. — Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC

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