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Thanksgiving: AAA Estimates 42.5M Americans Will Travel

More than 40 million people are expected to travel this year for Thanksgiving whether on the road or in the skies, the highest number since the start of the recession.

Choosing to see family and friends despite heightened airfares and gas prices, 42.5 million people will be journeying 50 miles or more during the holiday weekend, up 4 percent from last year, travel tracker AAA reported.

Automobile travel remains the preferred choice of transportation for holiday travelers because it is often more affordable, convenient and flexible, AAA noted, compared to flying.

While many will choose to hit the roads this weekend to avoid costly airfares, some are still willing to spend a few more bills to fly. The number of fliers over the holiday period, however, is expected to drop 2 percent from last year, according to the Air Transport Association, the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines.

ATA expects 23.2 million air travelers to fly on domestic and international routes during the 12-day period surrounding the holiday, down from the 23.6 million people who flew over the Thanksgiving period in 2010. The 2011 forecast predicts that the total volume for this period will be 12 percent less than in 2006.

“While demand is down from last year and remains well below the 2006 peak, passengers should still expect full flights during the Thanksgiving holiday travel season as airlines have begun to reduce capacity and limit the number of seats available for sale due in part to rising cost pressures,” ATA Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich said in a statement.

“Based on published airline schedules, these cuts are expected to continue through the winter.”

The busiest air-travel days for the holiday are expected to be Sunday, Nov. 27 and Monday, Nov. 28, followed by Friday, Nov. 18.

Passengers are being encouraged to check their flight status at the air carrier’s website before leaving for the airport and to arrive early to allow plenty of time for check-in and security screening.

Currently, two major storms in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest are complicating air travel, with delays seen on Wednesday afternoon in New York, San Francisco and Boston.

Those on the road face similar difficulties as well, with heavy rain slowing early travelers down on the East Coast. Thursday’s forecast is expected to be clear throughout most of the country.

This year marks the third consecutive Thanksgiving that Americans have hit the road in higher numbers than before.

“This is the first significant increase in any holiday travel this year,” Bill Sutherland, vice president of AAA’s travel services, said in a statement. “Memorial Day travel was statistically flat while Independence Day and Labor Day travel experienced decreases of 2.5 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.”

“As consumers weigh the fear of economic uncertainty and the desire to create lasting family memories this holiday, more Americans are expected to choose family and friends over frugality.”

Holiday travelers on average will be paying more this year to visit their loved ones compared to last year.

Gas prices currently cost on average $3.39 a gallon, 16 percent more than last year, while roundtrip airfare is up 20 percent from 2010, AAA revealed. Hotels and motels have also raised their prices as well.

For consumers on a tighter budget, other alternative modes of travel like bus, train, or watercraft will also be available this Thanksgiving.

Follow AAA’s Twitter to stay updated on travel conditions and to learn about some tips for those hitting the roads or traveling the air.

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