CHARLOTTE — Thanksgiving is almost here and many are eager to hit the roads and skies for a holiday with their families.
AAA forecasts 1.5 million North Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving, which is the most since 2019, the agency said. That’s 12,000 more North Carolina travelers than last year’s holiday and nearly 193,000 more than 2020.
Nationally, we’ll see a similar spike: AAA predicts 54.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving, a number only slightly below pre-pandemic levels.
AAA counts the Thanksgiving travel period as Wednesday, Nov. 23 through Sunday, Nov. 26.
“Travel is still roaring back from the pandemic,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “While gas prices and other inflationary pressures weigh on budgets, travel remains a top priority for Americans, particularly during the holidays. Travel spending is at the highest level since the pandemic began, which is a driving force behind our projections this year. AAA expects busy roads and long lines at the airport, so leave early and be flexible with your travel plans.”
Nearly 49 million on the roads and 4.5 million in the skies
89% of Thanksgiving travelers will drive this year, despite higher gas prices. AAA estimates 48.65 million people will hit the road for Thanksgiving -- 203,000 more drivers than last year.
In North Carolina, 1.4 million people will take a road trip. It’s an increase of a little over 1,000 people from last year’s holiday, according to AAA.
Pump prices are trending higher in November and could set new records for the holiday. In North Carolina, the highest daily average price for Thanksgiving was set back in 2013, at $3.33 per gallon. On Monday, drivers paid an average price of $3.39 per gallon. That’s 20 cents more than what North Carolina drivers paid last Thanksgiving ($3.19).
In addition to congestion on the roads, Thanksgiving travelers will likely find long lines at the airport too. Since last year, air travel is up nearly 8% nationally as 4.5 million people are expected to catch a flight for Thanksgiving. It’s an increase of more than 330,000 air passengers and nearly 99% of the 2019 volume.
Flight delays and cancellations this time of year aren’t uncommon. Winter weather, staffing challenges and strong demand are all reasons passengers might have difficulty flying.
Busiest times to hit the road
If you’re driving for Thanksgiving, leave early. Travelers should expect heavy congestion Monday through Wednesday afternoon and early evening. Traffic will be lighter during the morning, late evening hours and on Thanksgiving Day, AAA predicts.
More than 411,000 drivers will need AAA roadside assistance during the holiday weekend. The most common reasons are for dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. AAA encourages drivers to get a full inspection before getting on the road to check everything from the tires, oil, air filters and wiper blades.
Charlotte airport prepares for holiday travelers
Charlotte Douglas International Airport officials say they are preparing for a significant increase in holiday travelers.
According to officials, about 25,000 passengers go through the airport on a normal day. However, for the next 10 days they are preparing for an increase of up to 35,000 per day, which is back to pre-pandemic levels of travel.
Officials say travelers should pack their patience and be ready for long lines and possible delays.
To help alleviate traffic, the airport is suspending construction on the upper-level roadway so travelers can use both the arrivals and departures.
There is a new exit for long-term parking that should help with traffic, too.
For people waiting to pick up passengers, airport officials recommend using the cellphone lot.
Tips for Thanksgiving flights
According to the airport, Christmas is the second-busiest time of the year for Charlotte Douglas, followed by Thanksgiving. The two holidays differ because Christmas and New Year’s travel is spread over more days.
Travel prices are mostly higher for Thanksgiving 2022 than they were last year. Airfare is up 22% from 2021. The lowest round trip flight costs $166, compared to $135 in 2021.
Hotels cost 17% more this year than they did in 2021. A mid-range AAA Three Diamond property, which was $187 last year, costs $218 per night this year.
The one cost that has gone down is for car rentals, which cost 7% less this year. The average daily rate is $90, compared to $98 last year.
Click for the full Leisure Travel Index for a breakdown on pricing.
AAA offers the following tips for air travelers:
- Check-in early online.
- Monitor your flight status using your air carrier’s mobile app.
- Arrive 2-3 hours before scheduled departure.
- Pack medications and an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag, just in case your flight is delayed or cancelled.
Tips from AAA for air travelers who have not booked their flights yet:
- Book a flight that leaves early in the day. Flights in the afternoon and evening are more susceptible to delays and cancellations.
- Book a direct flight. Otherwise, build in extra time between connections in case your first flight is delayed.
- Consider traveling on Thanksgiving Day. This could offer the best combination of availability and price.
Charlotte is a top destination for Thanksgiving 2022
AAA hotel booking data shows that domestically, theme-park-heavy destinations like Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California, top the list of popular travel spots. Las Vegas, New York City and Atlanta also rank high. Charlotte sits at number 10 on the national list.
(WATCH BELOW: Long lines slowing down holiday travelers at Charlotte Douglas)
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