PARKERSBURG - This year's holiday travel numbers will be the highest ever recorded, officials with AAA said in the week leading up to the pre-holiday weekend.
The holiday survey numbers from AAA show an increase of 500,000 travelers from this time last year, up to 94.5 million, said Ruth Nagy, managing director of travel operations for AAA East Central.
The holiday season, from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1, expects to see 30 percent of Americans traveling more than 50 miles at some point, she said. This is an increase of 0.6 percent from the 2012 holiday season, marking the fifth consecutive year that holiday travel numbers have increased, said Nagy.
Photo by Gretchen Richards
A record number of travelers this holiday season are expected to create congested roads, airport delays and security bottlenecks from Dec. 21 through Jan 1.
This is the highest amount of travelers ever recorded for the holiday season, said Bevi Powell, vice president of community relations for AAA East Central.
The average American will travel 805 miles during the holiday season this year, said Nagy. This is an increase of an average of 45 miles from the 2012 season, she said. Whether the destination is national or international this holiday season, travelers should expect to be elbow-to-elbow with a high number of fellow travelers, said Nagy.
"Typically, Americans travel during the holidays regardless of economic conditions or gas prices," said Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central. "For the first time in three years, the holiday period covers 12 days instead of 11, providing travelers with an extra day to visit family and friends or squeeze in a year-end vacation," he said.
The average traveling American is expected to spend $765 on travel, dining and accommodations this year, which is up slightly from the $759 per traveler during last year's holiday season.
An estimated 85.8 million people are expected to travel by private car this holiday season, said Powell. Air travel numbers are expected to decrease slightly to 5.5 million travelers, she said. Alternative transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship passengers are anticipated at 3.1 million travelers this season, she said.
Hotel rates for the holiday season are expected to remain relatively flat, but car rental rates have increased by 13 percent, to an average of $63 a day, said Powell.
Those planning to drive this holiday season should know that the roads are going to be crowded, said Nagy. These crowded conditions can lead to accidents when drivers are distracted or tired, she said. Drivers should stop every two or three hours for an extended break in order to stay alert while driving, Nagy said.
Drivers should be alert for intoxicated drivers at all hours this holiday season, said Nagy. Christmas parties - and the alcohol frequently served with them - are held at any hour, so intoxicated drivers can be found at any time as well, she said.
Those planning to fly this season should know that security is going to be tight at the nation's airports, said Nagy. The airports will be busier than normal, which will cause significant delays, she said. Travelers should arrive no later than two hours before their flight departs.
Airport websites keep their security waiting times updated throughout the holiday season, said travel agent Kim Walters with U.S. Tours in Parkersburg. Travelers can refer to these times and adjust their arrival time earlier as needed to make sure they get through security in time for their flight, she said.
If the airline offers the option of checking in for your flight early, travelers should take the opportunity to do so, said Nagy.
"Checking in early allows your boarding passes to be created and waiting on you when you arrive," said Nagy. "This option allows you to bypass the ticket counter, and the lines you will find there."
Those traveling with gifts must remember not to wrap them before they fly, said Nagy.
"Security at the airport must unwrap every present they find in order to see what it is, which only adds to the delays," she said. "Wait until you arrive at your destination to wrap the presents," she said.
If you are traveling internationally, make sure that all of your documents, including your passport, are carried by hand with your personal bag, said Walters. These documents, along with your personal medications, should never be placed with checked luggage, and be within arm's reach at all times.