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More drivers hit the road for Thanksgiving as gas prices take a dip

Cheaper gas, lower covid cases spur boom in going the distance this year by Bill Bowden | November 22, 2022 at 5:06 a.m.
Service Technician Derek Cravens checks the air pressure of a tire, Monday, November 21, 2022 at Mr. Lube in Bentonville. Millions of people will be traveling for Thanksgiving this week. Arkansas has the fourth lowest gas prices in the country. AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving. That’s a 1.5% increase over 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes. This year is projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000. Visit nwaonline.com/221122Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

Inflation is carving into turkey prices, but Arkansas gas prices are at their cheapest point since Feb. 9.

"That's welcome news for the thousands of Arkansans fueling up for road trips ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend," said Nick Chabarria, a spokesman for AAA.

On Monday, the average price for a gallon of regular gas in Arkansas was $3.14, according to AAA. The only states with lower gas prices were Texas, Georgia and Mississippi. The national average on Monday was $3.66 per gallon.

This week's gas prices are still higher than this time last year, when Arkansans were paying an average of $3.04 per gallon and the national average was $3.41.

But the prices are lower than the record highs set on June 14 of $4.54 per gallon in Arkansas and $5.02 per gallon nationally.

Along with gas prices, coronavirus cases have also taken a dip, making the disease less of a concern for travelers this fall.

The summer BA.5 peak occurred in early July, said Mike Cima, Arkansas' state epidemiologist. Then we had a short covid "blip" after the start of school in late August.

AAA predicts 54.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving.

That's a 1.5% increase over 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic levels, according to AAA. This year is projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since the federation of motor clubs started tracking it in 2000. 2005 and 2019 were the busiest.

"Families and friends are eager to spend time together this Thanksgiving, one of the busiest for travel in the past two decades," says Paula Twidale, AAA's senior vice president of travel. "Plan ahead and pack your patience, whether you're driving or flying."

Most travelers will drive to their destinations, according to AAA. About 49 million people are expected to travel by car. Projected Thanksgiving road trips are up 0.4% from 2021 but still remain 2.5% below 2019 levels.

Travel cratered in 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing.

Air travel is up nearly 8% over 2021, with 4.5 million Americans flying to their Thanksgiving destinations this year, according to AAA. That's an increase of more than 330,000 travelers and nearly 99% of the 2019 volume.

For its forecast, AAA defines the Thanksgiving holiday travel period as the five-day period from Wednesday through Sunday.

The Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field is expecting an increase of 14.5% in departing passengers this Thanksgiving period, said Shane Carter, a spokesman for the airport. He said that percentage is based on projections from the Transportation Security Administration and uses an 11-day time period -- Thursday, Nov. 17, through Sunday, Nov. 27.

"A total of 40,768 passengers are expected to fly out as compared to 35,600 last year," said Carter, comparing the number to a similar 11-day period around Thanksgiving in 2021.

Carter said Sunday would be the busiest day, with about 5,000 passengers flying out of the airport. He urged people flying this week to get to the airport two hours before their flights are scheduled to depart.

Similar projections weren't available for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at Highfill, but that airport had an 11.2% increase in "throughput" (passengers and airline staff) for the first 20 days of November, when compared with the same period last year. That's a 166% increase over 2020 but a 2.4% decrease when compared to 2019.

John and Martha Landrum of New Orleans are combining air and car travel this Thanksgiving. On Monday, they flew Breeze Airways direct from New Orleans to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.

They booked a room for the night in Bentonville's 21c Hotel and met up with John's sister, Leslie Landrum of Springdale, for a tour of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Afterwards, they drove to Fayetteville to see the University of Arkansas campus.

Today, they will drive to Shell Knob, Mo., on Table Rock Lake, where Leslie has rented a cabin that can accommodate two dozen family members from as far away as Chicago.

"So all of us are going to pile in on this cabin and cook and be together and play games, and do some hiking," said Leslie Landrum. "It's pretty rustic, about a 45-minute drive from Branson."

Besides air and automobile travel, more than 1.4 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving by bus, train or cruise ship. That's an increase of 23% from 2021 and 96% of the 2019 volume, according to AAA.

"With travel restrictions lifted and more people comfortable taking public transportation again, it's no surprise buses, trains, and cruises are coming back in a big way," said Twidale.

In AAA's West South Central Region -- which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas -- 5.1 million people are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home this week. That number includes 4.7 million who are traveling by automobile, 327,000 who will travel by air and 111,000 who will travel by other means.

AAA doesn't split Arkansas out for statewide Thanksgiving travel projections.

While many people will travel to visit relatives this week, cities with large theme parks ranked as the main destinations for travel.

According to AAA, the top travel destinations this week are Orlando, Fla., which is near Disney World; Anaheim, Calif., home of Disneyland; Las Vegas and New York City.

Orlando and Anaheim also topped the list in 2019 and 2021.

"Thanksgiving is all about spending time with family and friends, so it's no surprise that theme park destinations top the list, with entertainment and meals accessible within a resort," said Twidale.

In Arkansas, it'll be warm for the most part this week, with high temperatures in the 50s and 60s across the state and lows in the 30s and 40s. Much of the state will see rainfall, however, particularly on Thanksgiving Day.

Much of the Northeastern U.S., however, is still digging out from last week's blizzard.

  photo  Service Technician Derek Cravens opens a car door before changing the vehicle’s oil, Monday, November 21, 2022 at Mr. Lube in Bentonville. Millions of people will be traveling for Thanksgiving this week. Arkansas has the fourth lowest gas prices in the country. AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving. That’s a 1.5% increase over 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes. This year is projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000. Visit nwaonline.com/221122Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
 
 
  photo  Service Technician James Murphy checks the engine air filter of a vehicle, Monday, November 21, 2022 at Mr. Lube in Bentonville. Millions of people will be traveling for Thanksgiving this week. Arkansas has the fourth lowest gas prices in the country. AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving. That’s a 1.5% increase over 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes. This year is projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000. Visit nwaonline.com/221122Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
 
 


Print Headline: Travel’s on menu for Thanksgiving

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