AAA: Fewer to travel over Thanksgiving holiday

Posted November 21, 2008 2:31 p.m. EST

— Despite a dramatic drop in the price of gasoline in recent weeks, fewer North Carolina residents are planning to travel on the road or by airplane this Thanksgiving, according to AAA Carolinas.

The drop is the first downturn in Thanksgiving travel in six years, the organization said.

An estimated 1.22 million North Carolinians plan to travel more than 50 miles from home over the holiday, but the number represents 17,000 fewer motorists and 14,000 fewer air passengers than a year ago.

“Concern over the economy is having a depressing effect on Thanksgiving holiday travel this year,” David Parsons, president and  chief executive of AAA Carolinas, said in a statement. “Still, the decline is smaller than might be expected because most people think Thanksgiving is a holiday they want to spend with families and friends.”

Steadily falling gas prices might encourage some people to alter plans at the last minute and travel, he said.

Gas prices in the Carolinas have declined more than 60 percent since hitting record highs of more then $4 a gallon in September following Hurricane Ike. The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in North Carolina is $1.97, down $1.11 from last year.

Nationwide, nearly 41 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over Thanksgiving, a decrease of 600,000 travelers from last year and the first decline in holiday travel since 2002.

Most highway construction projects along interstate and U.S. routes will be suspended beginning Tuesday through Dec. 1. One exception is Interstate 85 in Vance County, which is reduced to one lane in each direction between mile markers 206 and 214, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Airlines have been hit hard by the economic slump and have cut capacity while raising airfares, resulting in a drop in passengers over Thanksgiving, Parsons said.

“Air travelers this Thanksgiving should still expect to find crowded airports and airplanes because Thanksgiving is the heaviest travel holiday of the year,” he said. “Because airlines have cut the number of flights, the remaining flights will be as fully booked as possible. In the event of delays or cancellations, passengers could experience a longer wait.”

Air travelers should also be ready to pay for checked baggage, snacks, preferred seating and even pillows and blankets, he said.

The Thanksgiving holiday travel numbers are based on research from surveys of more than 2,000 adults nationwide and a forecast model developed by the Travel Industry Association, which conducts special research for AAA. The data was supplemented by an additional 5,000 Americans from the top 10 travel origins in the nation.