AAA message to Thanksgiving travelers: Slow down, be patient, check conditions before you go

For illustrative purposes only, travelers stand in an airport security line. The TSA recommends arriving at least two hours before scheduled departures if traveling by air during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Nov. 21, 2023 | Image by AnnaStills, iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Before you head out the door for Thanksgiving travel, it’s important to consider several important facts.

Chart shows the volume of Thanksgiving travelers tracked by AAA since 2019 | Image courtesy of AAA, St. George News

And AAA says the sheer volume of travelers is perhaps the most striking of statistics associated with Nov. 22-26.

The well-known global travel company projects 55.4 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday travel period. This year’s Thanksgiving forecast is an increase of 2.3% over last year and marks the third-highest Thanksgiving forecast since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000. The top two years were 2005 and 2019, respectively.

“For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand, and this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies, and seas compared to 2022,” Senior Vice President of AAA Travel Paula Twidale said in a news release. “Travel demand has been strong all year, and AAA’s Thanksgiving forecast reflects that continued desire to get away and spend time with loved ones.”

Most Thanksgiving travelers will drive to their destinations. AAA projects 49.1 million Americans will get behind the wheel, an increase of 1.7% compared with 2022. But gas prices are lower than last Thanksgiving when the national average was $3.58. While the average per gallon price of unleaded fuel is $3.714 in Washington County, it’s $3.341 statewide and $3.295 nationwide.

The Utah Department of Transportation encourages drivers to take part in TravelWise — Rethink Your Trip in an attempt to “reduce energy consumption, optimize mobility and improve air quality, ultimately improving the quality of life in Utah. Travelers simply enter their departure and arrival city and then navigate the options related to their trip. And as always, checking road conditions is a must, UDOT says.

Chart shows data about fuel prices by county across Utah for Thanksgiving 2023 | Image courtesy of AAA, St. George News

AAA expects 4.7 million people will fly over Thanksgiving, an increase of 6.6% compared to 2022 and the highest number of Thanksgiving air travelers since 2005. Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are the busiest air travel days ahead of the holiday and the most expensive. While Sunday is typically the busiest day to return home, AAA data shows Monday is also a popular day to fly back after Thanksgiving.

People departing via air travel should access St. George or Cedar City regional airport links to review suggested times for check-in and allow additional time due to heavy volumes expected during the holiday weekend, which AAA defines as Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 22-26.

And if you’re transporting food, the Transportation Security Administration reminds air travelers of the following: “Food items often need some additional security screening, so it is best to place those items in an easily accessible location of the carry-on when packing them and then removing those items from your bag and placing them in a bin for screening at the checkpoint.” Additional TSA air travel tips can be accessed here.

The number of people traveling by cruise, bus and train over Thanksgiving is up nearly 11% over last year. AAA expects 1.55 million travelers will head out of town using these other modes of transportation, which took a huge hit during the pandemic but have rebounded nicely.

“The cruise industry, in particular, has made a remarkable comeback,” Twidale added. “Thanksgiving cruises are mostly sold out, with many travelers looking to spend the holiday at sea.”

For illustrative purposes only, photo shows traffic backed up outside Mesquite, Nevada, on Interstate 15, Aug. 4, 2022 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

Best/worst times to drive and Peak congestion   

Inrix, a provider of transportation data and insights, expects Wednesday, Nov. 22, to be the busiest day on the roads during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, with average travel times as high as 80% over normal in some metro areas. Inriox 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,” Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at Inrix, said in the AAA news 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.”

Travelers also should check the latest weather conditions and updated forecasts before venturing out. Click here to access the National Weather Service.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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