WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, November 12, 2020) –– Despite the familiar sensation of  mal du pays that normally comes this time of year, that is to say “homesickness,” to keep their loved ones from getting sick, fewer Americans will be heading home for Thanksgiving Day this year due to ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. All-in-all, AAA anticipates at least a 10 percent drop in travel this Thanksgiving Day holiday, compared to years erstwhile and holidays past. It comprises the largest one-year decrease for Thanksgiving travel since the Great Recession in 2008. Yet more than 50 million Americans are still expected to venture 50 miles or more from home during the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday period.

In fact, Thanksgiving Day holiday travel will be on the lighter side this year, especially when it comes to the typical number of travelers on the roads and at airports. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including health concerns and high unemployment, are impacting Americans’ decisions to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA Travel.  This year the coronavirus pandemic is casting a pall over the normally preternaturally busy Thanksgiving holiday travel period. As a result, all modes of transportation will be impacted by coronavirus implications, including auto travel, and air travel in particular, plus in other modes, such as buses, trains and cruises.

The upshot is, fewer Americans will be heading to grandmother’s and grandfather’s house this Thanksgiving, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic spawns broad disruptions in holiday travel plans. With health and government officials stressing that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick. As the holiday approaches, AAA expects Americans will monitor the public health landscape to make final travel decisions.

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 could be the lowest we have seen in years.

“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.

“Now is not the time to be hardheaded, or softhearted, or to throw caution to the wind. With cause and concern, public health and government officials are warning: ‘staying at home is the best way to protect yourself and your kith and kin from the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 outbreak’ during the impending holiday season. Caution and preparation are the ‘order of the day’ for those intrepid souls opting to travel this Thanksgiving Day holiday season,” noted John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs.

“As America witnesses a record-high number of positive COVID-19 cases, and encounters the highest-ever tally of ensuing hospitalizations, plus a renewed or new wave of  coronavirus-related quarantine restrictions and protocols, and the issuance of new public notices to avoid out-of-state travel during the third wave of the pandemic, one must factor in the risks of Thanksgiving travel,” Townsend commented. “Despite the deadly pandemic, millions will still travel, especially by car. If you are inclined to travel, it is incumbent upon you to take proper precautions and protocols to help keep yourself and others safe, sound and healthy while away from home or on the road.”

To this end, the District government is “encouraging residents to spend Thanksgiving only with members of their household.” Bear in mind, “If you must travel, be aware of the risks while traveling,” public health officials forewarn.

What to Know Before You Go

  • 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.
  • Helpful AAA Resources. Visit AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map for the latest state and local travel restrictions. Use TripTik.AAA.com to plan your road trip and help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are open along your route. 

Road Trips Top Holiday Travel Plans

Of those who do decide to travel, 95%* will do so by automobile but they, too, 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. 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.

Before you head out, be sure your vehicle is ready for the trip to avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to rescue more than 413,000 Americans at the roadside this Thanksgiving. AAA makes it easy

to request assistance – by phone, app or online – and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle.

Few Travelers to Fly and Use Other Modes of Travel

AAA anticipates Thanksgiving air travel will see the largest one-year decrease on record. 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 at least 76%, to 353,000* travelers, as cruise ships remain docked and more travelers opt for car trips instead of taking buses or trains.

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.”

 Interestingly, Washington area residents will have plenty of company on area roadways on the day after Thanksgiving Day along Interstate 95, and at the interchange of Interstate 95, Interstate 395, and Interstate 495, that’s known as the “Springfield Interchange.” On November 27, it will live up to its old name and reputation “The Mixing Bowl,” starting around 11:45 a.m. on “Black Friday.”

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