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Gas prices are up this year, but Thanksgiving travel is expected to be, too.

Even with higher gas prices, this will be the busiest Thanksgiving for travel since 2005, according to North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization.

AAA predicts that 50.9 million people in the United States will travel 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving holiday. That's a 3.3 percent increase over last year, with 1.6 million more people taking to the roads, skies, rails and waterways.

"A strong economy and labor market are generating rising incomes and higher consumer confidence, fueling a strong year for the travel industry, which will continue into the holiday season," Bill Sutherland, a senior vice president at AAA, said in a news release.

Thanksgiving is Thursday. It commemorates the 1621 feast of the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World. Lobster, seal and swans were on the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving menu, according to

The higher gas prices won't stop Arkansans from hitting the road, said Mike Right, a regional spokesman for AAA.

"You're not going to forestall going to grandma's house because gas is an extra 30 cents a gallon," he said.

The average cost of a gallon of gas in Arkansas is $2.31 this year, compared with $1.93 last year, said Right.

Renting a car also will be more expensive nationwide, according to AAA. Daily rental rates will hit a five-year holiday high at $70 per day, possibly because of an increase in demand and the cost of newer vehicles.

An estimated 11.8 percent of the 40 million people living in AAA's west-south-central region will travel this Thanksgiving season, said Right. The region includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

AAA defines the Thanksgiving holiday travel period as Wednesday through Sunday.

The weather should be agreeable for the most part, according to AccuWeather. Storms that were expected to stall over the northern half of the nation should keep moving along through the holiday travel period, said AccuWeather chief meteorologist Elliot Abrams.

There still will be chilly air and lake-effect snow around the Great Lakes, according to an AccuWeather news release. But the cold will be limited to a couple of days and storms will tend to be weaker, swept along by the fast flow of air.

Conditions should remain cool in Arkansas this week with little chance of rain in the forecast, said Willie Gilmore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.

The weather service was predicting highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s for Little Rock. Temperatures will be slightly lower in north Arkansas, with the high reaching only about 50 degrees on Wednesday in Jonesboro. It'll be warmer in south Arkansas, with a high of 63 in El Dorado on Tuesday.

Nationwide, 89 percent of all travelers -- or 45.5 million -- are planning Thanksgiving road trips, according to AAA. That's an increase of 3.2 percent over last year.

Police in Arkansas will be strictly enforcing seat-belt laws this week. According to a news release from the Arkansas State Police, the Click It or Ticket campaign will begin Monday. There were 301 fatalities nationwide during the long holiday weekend in 2015, and 53 percent of those people weren't wearing seat belts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"More than half of the people who died in fatal traffic crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday period of 2015 were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash," said Col. Bill Bryant, director of the Arkansas State Police. "This year, we'll be out in full force looking for drivers and passengers who are not buckled up. Violators will be pulled over and ticketed."

State troopers also will be on the lookout for drunken drivers.

"Seat-belt enforcement is a top priority, but drunk or impaired drivers will also be getting equal attention of law enforcement patrol officers across the state," said Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the state police. "Each Highway Patrol division troop commander has the discretion to add additional personnel to particular stretches of highway as necessary."

The Arkansas Department of Transportation reminds drivers to visit before traveling over the holiday. The website can help motorists find ways around accidents and work-zone delays on interstates.

While gas prices are up, airfares will be the cheapest since 2013, according to AAA. The largest growth in holiday travel this year is by air, at 5 percent. That translates to 3.95 million air travelers nationwide.

Shane Carter, a spokesman for Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field in Little Rock, said the Transportation Security Administration is predicting a 2 percent increase in travelers at the airport this Thanksgiving season.

The agency predicted the busiest days would be the Friday before Thanksgiving, when 4,200 passengers were scheduled to depart from Clinton National, and the Sunday after the holiday, when about 4,100 are expected to fly out. The agency monitors only passenger counts for outbound flights, Carter said.

"We ask that passengers arrive 90 minutes before their departure," Carter said. "Airlines tell us most of the flights will be full. So reduce stress by planning ahead on what you can or cannot bring on a plane and get to the airport early."

Carter encourages passengers to check and click on the link in the upper right corner that reads: "What can I bring?"

"Thanksgiving is our busiest time of the year," Carter said. "We'll have many passengers who haven't used the airport since last Thanksgiving, which makes it important for them to understand any security changes in advance to improve their experience.

"All electronics larger than a cellphone must be removed from your carry-on and placed in a bin for screening at the checkpoint unless you're in the TSA pre-check program."

Concourse work has been underway at the Little Rock airport, but that will be on hold until after Jan. 1.

Also, on Friday the airport opened a mother's nursing room and service-animal relief area within the concourse, Carter said.

Kelly Johnson, director of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill, said the airport is expecting a 2.6 percent increase in travel this Thanksgiving holiday, based on Transportation Security Administration projections.

"Our traffic has been up year to date," Johnson said. "Seeing our traffic up for this particular week isn't a surprise since we're seeing more traffic in general. Airfares have come down over the last 14 months in our area so we're happy to see people using the airport service."

Johnson said the Transportation Security Administration is projecting Tuesday to be the busiest day at Northwest Arkansas Regional this Thanksgiving week, with 2,387 people flying out. She advised travelers to get to the airport an hour before scheduled departures, which is the airport's usual recommendation.

While the airport will see more discretionary travel this week, it will have fewer business passengers, Johnson said.

She said the airport added a mother's nursing room and service-animal relief area within the concourse a few months ago. Both were federal requirements.

Metro on 11/19/2017

Print Headline: Holiday trips forecast to defy gas prices' rise; 45.5 million travelers expected to go by auto


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