AAA: COVID-19 Drives Lower Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 

NATIONAL REPORT Thanksgiving travel is expected to be light this year on the roads and at airports as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic wanes on.

According to AAA Travel, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — including health concerns and high unemployment — are impacting Americans' decisions to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. With health and government officials stressing that staying home is the best way to protect consumers from getting sick, AAA anticipates at least a 10-percent drop in travel — the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008.

Based on mid-October forecast models, AAA would have expected up to 50 million Americans to travel for Thanksgiving, a drop from 55 million in 2019. However, as the holiday approaches and Americans monitor the public health landscape, including rising COVID-19 positive case numbers, renewed quarantine restrictions and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's travel health notices, AAA expects the actual number of holiday travelers will be even lower.

"The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president for AAA Travel. "The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure."

Here are AAA's predictions:

Fueling Car Rides

Americans who decide to travel are likely to drive shorter distances and reduce the number of days they are away, making road trips the dominant form of travel this Thanksgiving. Travel by automobile is projected to fall 4.3 percent, to 47.8 million travelers and account for 95 percent of all holiday travel.

Drivers will find cheaper gas prices this year. On average, gas prices nationally are 50 cents cheaper than this time last year, with October averages the lowest in more than 15 years.

Peak Traffic Times

Traffic volume is expected to be less than in years past, but travelers in major urban areas will experience increased delays at popular bottlenecks, up to 30 percent above normal pandemic congestion levels, INRIX reports. The association expects Wednesday afternoon to see the highest volume of traffic.

"Though fewer people will be traveling this Thanksgiving, we expect more holiday drivers than we had over the last few holidays during COVID-19," said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. "Drivers should plan alternate routes and departure times to avoid traffic jams."

Other Modes of Transportation

Thanksgiving air travel volume will be down by nearly half of prior years to 2.4 million travelers, marking the largest one-year decrease on record. For air travelers, holiday airfares are the lowest in three years, AAA reported.

Travel by other modes, including buses, trains and cruises, is expected to decline 76 percent, to 353,000 travelers, as cruise ships remain docked and more travelers opt for car trips instead of taking buses or trains.