One-third of Americans will travel over the holidays this year, which will be a record. The total number of travelers will reach 112.5 million, who will travel by car, bus, airplane or rail. This is a 4.4% increase over last year.
A new AAA report shows that 102 million of those traveling will go by car. The research, done by analytics firm INRIX, also shows that traffic congestion in several large cities will increase travel times at peak driving periods by four times the normal commute duration. AAA defines the holiday period as running from Saturday, December 22, 2018, through Tuesday, January 1, 2019.
One reason travel will rise is a strong economy. Bryan Shilling, managing director, AAA Travel products and services, said:
’Tis the season for holiday travel, and more Americans than ever will journey to spend time with friends and family or choose to take a vacation Strong economic growth fueled by robust consumer spending continues to drive strong demand for seasonal travel. With a record-breaking one-third of the country choosing to travel this holiday, roadways and airports are sure to be busy.
The unemployment rate in the United States is currently at a multiyear low at 3.7%, which was the November reading from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jobless rate has been below 4% since July. Gross domestic product also is growing rapidly, according to recent figures. It rose 3.5% at an annualized rate in the third quarter. Falling gasoline prices are another factor, according to the AAA. Gas prices recently dropped to their lowest level in 2018.
While car trips will dominate the holiday travel season, millions of people will go by other means. Air travel will reach 6.7 million, which is the highest level in 15 years and is up 4.2% compared to 2017. Travel by trains, buses and cruise ships will hit 3.7 million, 4.0% more than last year.
Highway bottlenecks will plague drivers in several cities, particularly during periods when people normally commute. The AAA looked at car travel times in 10 cities. Depending on the city, the worst period to drive fell between December 19 and December 24. All the worst travel times were in the afternoon or evening:
|City||Worst Day to Travel||Worst Time for Travel||Delay Multiplier|
|Atlanta||Saturday, Dec. 22||3:00 – 4:00 PM||4x|
|New York City||Thursday, Dec. 20||9:30 – 10:30 PM||3.75x|
|Boston||Wednesday, Dec. 19||3:30 – 4:30 PM||3.5x|
|Houston||Wednesday, Dec. 19||12:15 – 1:15 PM||3.25x|
|Detroit||Monday, Dec. 24||2:00 – 3:00 PM||3x|
|Seattle||Wednesday, Dec. 19||4:00 – 6:00 PM||2.25x|
|Chicago||Monday, Dec. 24||1:30 – 2:30 PM||2.25x|
|Los Angeles||Thursday, Dec. 20||2:30 – 3:30 PM||2x|
|San Francisco||Friday, Dec. 21||4:15 – 5:15 PM||1.25x|
|Washington, DC||Thursday, Dec. 20||1:15 – 2:15 PM||2.75x|
Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX, said:
With a record-level number of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in major metro areas – with Thursday, December 20 being the nation’s worst day to travel. Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early, or after the morning commute.
The AAA also forecast the top 10 destinations for American. With the exception of New York City, all are in warm climates: Orlando, Florida; Cancun, Mexico; Anaheim, California (because of Disneyland); Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Honolulu, Hawaii; Kahului, Hawaii; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Miami, Florida.
Finally, the AAA expects to be busy over the holiday. It anticipates rescuing about 960,000 people by the roadsides.