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Fewer Americans Traveling This Thanksgiving

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In 2020, the 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 yourself and others from getting sick, AAA anticipates at least a 10% 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 (CDC) 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, 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.”

For Americans who make the personal decision to travel for the holiday, it is important to know the risks involved and ways to keep yourself and others safe. In addition to CDC guidance, travelers should also be aware of local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders.

  • Plan Ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you are, along your route, and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.
  • Follow Public Health Guidance. Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least 6 feet) and regular handwashing are the best ways to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. Be sure to pack face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. Also pack water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.
  • Verify Before You Go. Call ahead to minimize any last minute surprises.  
    • Hotels – Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining.
    • Car rentals – If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.

Road Trips Top Holiday Travel Plans

Those 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%, to 47.8 million travelers and account for 95% of all holiday travel.

AAA reminds those hitting the road to plan their route ahead. To minimize the number of stops along the way, pack meals, extra snacks and drinks in addition to an emergency roadside kit.

Few Travelers to Fly and Use Other Modes of Travel

AAA anticipates Thanksgiving air travel volume will be down by nearly half of prior years – to 2.4 million travelers. This would be the largest one-year decrease on record. For these travelers, AAA notes holiday airfares are the lowest in three years. If flying, AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may not be available. Also, as a precaution, wipe down your seat, armrest, belt buckle and tray table using disinfecting wipes.

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

2020 Thanksgiving Holiday Travelers
  Automobile Air Other

(Bus, Train, Cruise)

2020 47.8M 2.4M 353,000
2019 49.9M 4.58M 1.5M
Change -4.3% -47.5% -76.2%


INRIX Predicts Wednesday Afternoon to See Peak Traffic

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% above normal pandemic congestion levels. INRIX 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.”

Busiest Corridor per Region (Nov. 25-29)
Region Corridor (from/to) Peak congestion period Peak delay (min)
Atlanta I85 South – Decatur St to Clairemont Road 11/25/2020 3:30 p.m. 38
Boston I93 North – Massachusetts Connector to Main St 11/25/2020 3:15 p.m. 14
Chicago I290 West – UIC to Jackson Blvd 11/25/2020 4 p.m. 41
Detroit I96 West – I-96/275 to Novi Rd 11/25/2020 4 p.m. 16
Houston I10 West –Sjolander Rd to I-10/330 11/25/2020 3:45 p.m. 15
Los Angeles I5 South – Colorado Street to I-5/605 11/25/2020 5:30 p.m. 69
New York I95 South – Bruckner Interchange to George Washington Bdg 11/25/2020 3:45 p.m. 44
San Francisco I580 East – CA-238/Hayward to 205 Interchange (Tracy) 11/25/2020 3:45 p.m. 57
Seattle I5 South – S 348th St to Tacoma Dome 11/26/2020 1:15 p.m. 23
Washington, D.C. I95 South – Springfield Interchange to Gordon Blvd 11/27/2020 11:45 a.m. 14
      Source: INRIX


Road Trippers to Be Met with Lower Gas Prices

Those who decide to hit the road for Thanksgiving will find cheaper gas prices. On average, gas prices nationally are nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year, with October averages the lowest in more than 15 years.

AAA members can fill up for even less at Shell stations when they join the Fuel Rewards® program at AAA.com/Shell Nov. 15 through Dec. 31. In addition to the five cents per gallon everyday offer, members will receive an additional 10 cents off per gallon on their first three fill-ups after joining for the first time as a Fuel Rewards® member, for a total savings of 15 cents.

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