More Washingtonians traveling over the holidays despite economy, high gas prices

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2010; 10:04 PM

Washingtonians might set a 21st-century holiday travel record next week as 2.2 million of the region's residents are expected to go more than 50 miles, most of them heading home for Christmas.

The American Automobile Association's annual holiday travel survey found that travel will increase by almost 4 percent, setting a 10-year record despite economic concerns and a 40-cent per gallon increase in gas prices compared with 2009.

Ninety-four percent of those surveyed said they plan to drive, and 83 percent of them said they're traveling to spend the holiday with family or friends.

Nationwide, more than 92 million people are expected to travel, based on survey results, a 3.1 percent increase from last year, with 93 percent saying they will drive.

Air travel is expected to be up by almost 3 percent nationally and 3.5 percent locally.

Though the 60,000 Washingtonians expected to fly somewhere for the holidays constitute a bump up from last year, the number of holiday fliers has dropped dramatically in the past decade. The 2000 AAA survey found that 142,000 were planning to fly.

"They have opted out of flying, and they are fuming about the hassles and hidden fees of flying," said John B. Townsend II of AAA.

During the first nine months of the year, airlines charged a record $4.3 billion in baggage fees, booking fees and other airline fees, including ticket-change fees, priority boarding fees and preferred seating fees, according to the Department of Transportation.

The AAA survey's profile of Washington area holiday travelers found that they will travel an average of 1,200 total miles, compared with 1,052 miles nationally. They expect to spend an average of $901 on the trip, compared with $694 per household nationally.

The AAA survey is produced by IHS Global Insight, a Boston-based economic research firm.

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