AAA: Slight increase in Thanksgiving travel expected

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 10:33 AM

Americans are expected to travel long distances in big numbers over the Thanksgiving weekend -- a slight increase from 2008 when economic fears caused thousands to stay closer to home -- but fewer will travel by air, according to estimates from the Automobile Association of America.

AAA said the number of people who will travel 50 miles or more away from home during Thanksgiving is expected to grow to 38.4 million this year, up 1.4 percent from last year. In 2008, the number of people traveling during the period plummeted 25 percent. It was the first decline in Thanksgiving travel since 2002, a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

AAA said this year's expected increase in travel reflects improved consumer confidence from a year ago, better performance of the financial markets and a growing sense among many U.S. consumers that the worst of the global economic crisis has passed.

Glen MacDonell, AAA's director of travel services, called the projected increase a "hopeful sign that economic conditions are stabilizing and improving."

Travel experts say the decline of gasoline prices from a year ago -- down 56 cents in October nationally from year-ago prices -- has encouraged more people to decide to travel. About 86 percent of Thanksgiving vacationers are expected to travel by car, the association said.

AAA predicted the number of people who will fly to their Thanksgiving destinations will fall by 6.7 percent this year. The organization pointed to a decades-long trend in which air travel continues to decline as a percentage of total Thanksgiving travel. Since 2000, the number of Americans traveling by air during the Thanksgiving weekend has dropped 62 percent. Americans are balking at stricter airport security, more frequent flight delays, reduced capacity and added fees, AAA said.

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