Thanksgiving travel will be lighter due to pandemic, AAA says

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Overall travel expected to be down at least 10% from last year

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Travel volume on Thanksgiving weekend will shrink to the lowest point since the Great Recession of 2008, and will end 11 years of travel growth for the holiday weekend, according to AAA’s forecast.

Many people are adjusting their holiday plans during the coronavirus pandemic, and health experts urge Americans, particularly older adults, to avoid gathering with people outside their household.

“We keep hearing from health and government officials that it’s really best to stay home and limit your social interactions, that’s the best way to keep yourself safe and keep from spreading the virus,” AAA spokesperson Marie Dodds told KOIN 6 News. “So it makes sense that people are staying closer to home.”

The projection is based on mid-October data, and with a recent rise in the number of coronavirus cases spurring renewed restrictions from Governor Kate Brown, the actual turnout could be even lower.

“As we know the pandemic is getting worse and many states, including Oregon, have put restrictions into place,” Dodds said.

Most will wait until the last minute to decide whether to take a Thanksgiving trip, AAA said. Of those who do choose to go somewhere, 95% are expected to drive to their destination, a 4.3% drop from 2019. In Oregon, 637,000 travelers are expected to drive.

Peak traffic is expected the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, and travelers in urban areas could experience delays up to 30% above normal pandemic congestion levels, AAA said.

Drivers will benefit from the cheapest gas prices in years — in Oregon, about 70 cents less than this time last year, according to AAA.

Travel by buses, trains and cruises is expected to plummet 76% and AAA predicts air travel volume to be down by almost half. If that happens, it will be the biggest one-year decrease on record, AAA said.

All-in-all, Dodds said they’re predicting an overall decrease in travel volume of at least 10% this year. If that doesn’t sound like a big enough decrease, it could be because so many people want to be with loved ones who they may not have seen in months.

“The decision to travel is a very personal one, and we also realize that there are people who are desperate to see family and friends,” she said. “But of course we advise extreme caution when making plans to travel and following all safety protocols.”

If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans expected to travel this year, AAA has the following tips:

  • Check travel restrictions for each destination in advance
  • Book lodging, camping and rental cars in advance (many companies are limiting the number of guests)
  • Get to the airport at least two hours before your flight (some locations are checking passengers’ temperatures, so going through security could take longer)

More tips and COVID-19 information for travelers can be found here.

Oregon’s traffic has still been lower than pre-pandemic levels, now close to nine months since Governor Brown signed her ‘stay at home’ order. Here’s how it has fluctuated on I-5.

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