There will be more people on the roads or at the airport this holiday. But you may not notice
AAA expects this holiday season to be the second busiest for travel in the last 23 years. Kara Hitchens says the only year more people traveled was 2019, before the pandemic started.
"We just see it as a continuation that people are ready to get back out there and start traveling again," she says. "It's just been building. We know that before the pandemic, those numbers were increasingly going up. Of course, everything shut down during the pandemic. We're just seeing this as getting back to normal, getting back to what people are used to and what people are expecting."
Hitchens says nationwide, more than 115 million people are expected to go at least 50 miles away from home during the 10-day holiday period. Most of them will be driving, thanks in part to lower gas prices, but the number of people flying is expected to increase from last year.
"From what we've heard from the airlines, they have taken many measures and many steps to correct the issues from last year," she says, referring to Southwest Airlines, which will pay a $140 million fine for its holiday meltdown last year. "You can't do anything about the weather. The weather is what the weather is. But how the airline responded to it was something that they have addressed for this year. They feel like they are ready and I think that people are trusting them."
This year, the airline tells NPR it has made technological upgrades and other improvements to handle problems posed by bad weather.
If everything goes right, you may not notice more people on the roads or at the airport. Hitchens says the longer holiday period means people stagger their departures and returns. "Kids are out of school. Because the holidays are back-to-back — Christmas and right behind that you have New Year's — a lot of companies kind of slow down business, so people tend to take a little more time off."
AAA predicts 104 million Americans will drive at least 50 miles away from home over the holidays. Another 7.5 million will fly.