The holiday travel period will be busier than last year for U.S. airlines. Vehicle traffic will increase as well. Fred Katayama reports.
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A record 107.3 million people will travel to celebrate year-end holidays, braving higher gas prices than last year and roads in some spots threatening three times the normal traffic congestion, according to a AAA forecast Thursday.
Holiday travel already set records this year for Memorial Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving, according to AAA. The projected 3.1% increase in travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1 would represent the ninth consecutive year-end rise, according to AAA.
Most travelers will jump in cars, with 97.4 million projected to hit the road. Another 6.4 million are expected to fly somewhere during that period. And trains, buses and cruise ships are projected to carry 3.6 million.
More people are traveling as the economy grows — despite higher gas prices. The 3.3% annual growth rate of Gross Domestic Product in the third quarter was the biggest gain since the same period in 2014, according to the Commerce Department.
The national average price per gallon for gas was $2.47 during the first half of December, which is 28 cents more than a year earlier and the most expensive since 2014, according to AAA. But the price expected to drop a nickel by year end.
“More expensive gas prices are not swaying holiday revelers to stay home,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA’s senior vice president for travel and publishing. “We’ve seen the strong economy and growing consumer confidence fuel holiday travel all year long.”
More about holiday travel and traffic:
Christmas travel rush: What to expect if you’re flying
Best and worst U.S. cities for driving: Annual Waze rankings
According to Inrix, a company that analyzes transportation data, the heaviest road congestion in the biggest cities will be in the afternoons the Wednesday or Thursday before Christmas:
♦ New York City from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 20, which will be three times the usual traffic.
♦ Los Angeles from 3:30 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 20, which will be two-and-a-half times the usual.
♦ Washington, D.C., from 3 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 21, which will be two-and-a-half times the usual.
♦ San Francisco from 3 to 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 20, which will be twice the usual.
♦ Chicago from 4 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 21, which will twice the usual.
“With record-level travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in major metros,” said Graham Cookson, chief economist and head of research at Inrix. “Our advice to drivers is to avoid peak times altogether or consider alternative routes.”
Nationwide, the worst time generally to drive will be Dec. 22 from 3 to 5 p.m., according to Waze, the community-based navigation app, based on a review of driver insights from last year.
Trips to grocery stores spike 61% for last-minute shopping around the holidays, compared to average traffic during the previous four weeks, according to Waze.
Requests for help reaching movie theaters spike 130% spike on Christmas day, Waze said. But Dec. 25 traditionally has the least traffic from Dec. 22 through Jan. 4, according to the app.
Airlines projected a record 51 million travelers during a broader holiday season, from Dec. 15 through Jan. 4, than AAA’s projection.
The busiest flying days, with about 2.7 million passengers each, will be Thursday Dec. 21, Friday Dec. 22 and Tuesday Dec. 26, according to Airlines for America, a trade group that represents most of the largest carriers.
The lightest days, with about 2.25 million passengers each, are projected to be Dec. 16, Dec. 24, Dec. 25 and Dec. 31, according to the group.
The Transportation Security Administration offered travel tips with packing reminders for the holidays.
Wrapped gifts aren’t prohibited, but officers may need to look inside a box that contains a suspicious item. Packing wrapped presents along with containers of liquids larger than a snow globe in checked luggage will avoid slowing down checkpoint lines.
Toys that resemble weapons in an X-ray such as toy guns or swords can lead to evacuations, so TSA recommends packing them in checked luggage, too.
Holiday treats can be tricky. Solid items such as turkey, cake, pie or cookies are allowed in carry-on bags. But pourable or spreadable items larger than 3.4 ounces fall under restrictions against larger containers of liquids, which must be checked.
Travelers can ask questions through Twitter at @AskTSA or Facebook Messenger from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
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