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Holiday travel projections: Expect one of the busiest Thanksgiving weekends on record

By CJ HADDAD - | Nov 17, 2023

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season upon us, those planning to travel for Thanksgiving should be prepared.

According to data from AAA – The Auto Club Group, more than 3 million Floridians plan to take a trip of 50 miles or more from Nov. 22 to 26.

AAA projections state that this year’s forecast is the second highest on record since 2005 with an expected 87,000 more holiday travelers from last year, a 3% increase.

“Travel demand has been strong all year and that trend will continue with one of the busiest Thanksgivings on record,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA, in a release. “With more people taking to the roads, skies, rails and sea; travelers should expect congested roads and longer lines at transportation terminals. AAA encourages travelers to develop their plan now, leave early, and be courteous to others.”

AAA said most travelers will take to the roads to get to their destinations, with nearly 2.8 million getting behind the wheel. That projected total for auto travel is just 10,000 shy of the all-time high set in ’05.

Good news for drivers is that gas prices should be less costly compared to last year. Florida’s average hit a yearly low of $3.16 per gallon last week after a slight bump. Prices have since gone back down.

“Last week’s gas price hike didn’t make much sense, considering how oil and gasoline futures prices have steadily fallen through the past few weeks,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins, in a release. “Either way, the jump at the pump was short lived and those gains were mostly erased by the weekend. Oil prices are now at multi-month lows, which should help keep gas prices low through the holidays.”

INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, expects Nov. 22 to be the busiest day on the roads during this holiday travel period, with average travel times as high as 80% longer than normal in some metro areas. INRIX recommends leaving in the morning, or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest holiday congestion.

“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, in a release. “Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations. We advise drivers to use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services for real-time updates.”

AAA said it expects to rescue more than 360,000 motorists nationwide over Thanksgiving weekend. The three most common reasons expected for service calls are flat tires, dead batteries, and lockouts.

“Don’t let car trouble be the reason you don’t make it to Thanksgiving dinner,” Jenkins stated. “Before setting out for your holiday road trip, ensure your tires, battery and brakes are all in proper working condition; and don’t forget to pack an emergency kit for added peace of mind.”

When it comes to airline travel, AAA figures show more than 200,000 Flordians to take to the skies, a near 6% increase from 2022, and the second-highest air travel volume in 15 years behind 2019.

AAA said the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be the busiest air travel days, and most expensive. Sunday is typically the busiest day to return home, though AAA projections show Monday is also slated to be a busy travel day.

Officials at RSW in Fort Myers said they expect a busy holiday period on the horizon.

“Please be in line at your security checkpoint at least 2 hours prior to your flight departure for a domestic flight and 3 hours before an international flight,” RSW officials stated in a release.

RSW is offering passengers a new remote and reserved parking option called RSWRemote. It is located on the north side of the airport, on Regional Lane, off Chamberlin Parkway. The RSWRemote parking lot will be accepting cars to enter from Nov. 18 through Thanksgiving Day. Cars can exit from Thanksgiving Day through Dec. 3. The cost will be a flat $40 fee, no matter how many days you choose to park and is non-refundable.

“This should save travelers money and stress this holiday!” officials stated.

Visit flylcpa.com for more information.

As for alternative modes of transportation this year, the number of Floridians traveling by cruise, bus, and train over Thanksgiving is up nearly 9% over last year, according to AAA. The auto club expects 50,000 travelers to head out of town using these other modes of transportation, which suffered a severe setback during the pandemic, but have since rebounded.

“The cruise industry, in particular, has made a remarkable comeback, and thrives during the holidays,” Haas added. “Holiday cruises are highly sought-after as a means for large families to travel together and visit multiple destinations without having to worry about the cooking and cleanup. For those looking to plan a 2024 vacation, this is also a great time to connect with a Travel Advisor, who can navigate the many options available to find the best fit.”

For more information, visit AAA.com.