CHARLOTTE — Christmas is just days away, and many are preparing to hit the roads and skies for a holiday with their families.
AAA forecasts 3.3 million North Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more from Friday to Jan. 2. That’s 134,000 more North Carolina travelers than last year, and a new record high for this travel period since before the pandemic.
Nationally, we’ll see a similar spike: AAA predicts 112.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday season, an increase of 3.6 million people compared to last year and the third busiest since AAA began tracking in 2000.
“Despite inflationary pressures, consumers remain resilient and dedicated to travel this year, and the holidays will be no different,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Americans are spending more on travel than any other time in the past two years. The good news is the cost for a holiday road trip will be less expensive than anticipated, now that gas prices are on the way down.”
Airport passengers: Pack your patience
As people prepare for holiday travels, Charlotte Douglas is expecting thousands of passengers to fly in and out of the airport.
Airport officials expect the terminals to stay busy. They expect about 8% more travelers every day through this holiday period -- an average of 71,000 people a day over the next two and a half weeks.
Airport officials are once again asking everyone to get to the airport early and plan ahead. But they did say things ran smoothly there last month, at Thanksgiving time.
95% of travelers got through TSA within 30 minutes, and the average wait time for security was 20 minutes.
Airport officials spelled out which days they’re expecting the highest numbers of passengers.
“Bookings do look good. So we are going to see some busy travel days on the 22nd, 23rd, and 27th. And also Friday of this week as well, which is the 16th,” said Jerome Woodard, the Charlotte Douglas Airport chief operating officer.
Officials said the only days over this holiday period that don’t look too busy are the days most people don’t want to fly -- Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
To save time, download the CLT Airport app. You can pay for parking ahead of time and you can check the wait times for each TSA line to find which is the quickest. You could also join TSA Pre-Check -- the average wait time is 5 to 7 minutes, but it does cost $78 and approval can take months.
Tips for holiday 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 holiday 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 Christmas Day. This could offer the best combination of availability and price.
Nearly 102 million on the roads and 7.2 million in the skies
90% of holiday travelers will drive this year; AAA estimates 101.8 million people will hit the road for holiday -- 2 million more drivers than last year.
In North Carolina, 3.1 million people will take a road trip. It’s an increase of 84,000 people from last year’s holiday, according to AAA.
Holiday road trippers are getting an early Christmas gift of plunging prices at the pump. The state average has declined 40 cents per gallon since Nov. 10. In early December, the average price for gas in North Carolina was $3.05 per gallon -- 7 cents per gallon less than a year ago.
>> Channel 9′s gas price tracker
In addition to congestion on the roads, holiday travelers will likely find long lines at the airport too. Since last year, air travel is up nearly 14% nationally as 7.2 million Americans are expected to catch a flight for the holidays. The numbers will come close to matching 2019, when 7.3 million people traveled by air.
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.
Strong demand will create long lines at airports, and with winter weather as a wild card, you can have a hard time getting re-booked in a hurry.
Busiest times to hit the road
If you’re driving for holidays, leave early. Watch the weather and wear your seatbelt. Never drive distracted or impaired.
Travelers should expect heavy congestion on Friday, Saturday, and Jan. 2. The busiest travel day is expected to be Friday.
More than 899,000 drivers will need AAA roadside assistance on holiday travel days. 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.
(WATCH BELOW: Charlotte Douglas welcoming thousands of travelers for Thanksgiving)
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