ANNAPOLIS, Md. — About 53.4 million people nationwide are expected to travel for Thanksgiving this year, a 13% rise from last year and the highest single-year increase since 2005,  according to estimates from AAA.

Airlines are preparing for a marked increase in passengers this holiday season. (Charlotte Parker Dulany/Capital News Service)

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” said Ragina C. Ali, Public and Government Affairs Manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.”

The United States recently reopened its borders to many vaccinated international travelers.

Health experts advised against traveling for the holidays in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In 2020, 90% of Marylanders opted not to travel for Thanksgiving, according to a AAA survey. 

But with the majority of eligible Americans fully vaccinated and the Delta wave beginning to recede, travelers appear more eager to reconnect with family and friends. 

As of Nov. 8, the 7-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases was 73,312, down from an average of over 164,000 on Sept. 1, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Maryland on Nov. 8 reported a 7-day average of 687 daily cases, down from an average of 1,210 on Sept. 1, according to the CDC. 

Air travel is expected to nearly double, as AAA is forecasting about 4.2 million airplane passengers, compared to the 2.3 million people who flew over Thanksgiving in 2020. 

Despite the increase in flying, driving will account for the overwhelming majority of travel this holiday season, with a projected 48.3 million people opting for a road trip.

“While airline seat capacity here at BWI Marshall Airport for the holiday time is down between 15 and 20 percent compared with the Thanksgiving period in 2019, we do expect to see strong passenger traffic,” Jonathan Dean, a spokesperson for Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, told Capital News Service. 

Dean advised that travelers give themselves plenty of time for parking, airline ticketing, and the TSA security screening process.

Even with soaring gas prices, AAA does not expect it to deter people from traveling. Gas prices nationally are up over $1.30 from last year. 

In Maryland, gas prices are at an average of $3.38 a gallon, compared to $2.19 last year.

“It would stand to reason that those who missed the annual Thanksgiving gathering last year may be even more motivated than usual to make the trip, despite the additional expense of filling up,” said Ali. “That said, gas prices are a factor that AAA will continue to monitor closely as the holiday approaches.”

Bus, train, and cruise travel is expected to see a massive jump as well, with about 1 million passengers, compared to 281,000 in 2020, according to AAA.

Greyhound bus company conducted a survey of 4,000 of its customers and found that only 3% of respondents were not planning on traveling because of COVID-19 concerns, according to a company spokesperson. 

The CDC is advising against Americans traveling for Thanksgiving until they are fully vaccinated and urging all eligible people to receive their booster shot as well. 

Families with unvaccinated children are encouraged to drive or choose direct flights to limit the number of stops in crowded settings. Trips that include crowded indoor settings are also discouraged, according to the agency. 

The Maryland Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment on the anticipated Thanksgiving travel surge as of Tuesday afternoon.

This article was originally published on on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.

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