Travel is expected to increase ever so slightly this Thanksgiving, with more Floridians hitting the roads and slightly fewer taking to the skies in pursuit of pumpkin pie and turkey legs.
Auto club AAA said Tuesday that it expects an estimated 43.6 million Americans to take a trip 50 miles or more from home in the Wednesday-through-Sunday Thanksgiving weekend, up 0.7 percent from the 43.3 million people who traveled a year ago.
In Florida, about 2.2 million people are expected to travel, an increase of 0.6 percent versus a year ago. The overwhelming majority of those travelers -- about 91 percent -- are expected to drive to their destination rather than fly.
"Although leisure travel is forecast to make just modest gains from last year, it's still a positive sign to see growth for the fourth year in a row," said Brent Hubele, vice president of travel for AAA's Auto Club Group based in Tampa.
Central Floridians will want to gas up before hitting the road: The average price for a gallon of regular Tuesday was $3.27 in Metro Orlando, compared with $3.36 statewide and $3.44 nationally.
AAA said gas prices likely will fall going into Thanksgiving week, though they remain high by historical standards. Despite continued sluggishness in the economy, consumers have a more positive outlook than they did last year, according to a report prepared for AAA by IHS Global Insight, which will help keep holiday travel just ahead of what it was in 2011.
Travelers heading to Orlando International Airport for flights elsewhere will find crowds largely unchanged from a year ago, though they should expect their planes to be nearly full. The airport is preparing to process 1.25 million passengers during what it considers its Thanksgiving travel period: Nov. 16 through Nov. 27. That would be just a few thousand passengers shy of last year's tally.
Crowds are predicted to be heaviest at OIA on Saturday, Nov. 24, when 118,810 passengers could pass through the main terminal. That bucks the conventional wisdom that the day before Thanksgiving is the single busiest day of the holiday.
The slowest day at Orlando International is expected to be Thanksgiving Day itself, airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said.
No matter what airport you're headed to, it's important to be prepared. Print your boarding passes at home, be familiar with Transportation Security Administration regulations, know your airline's rules regarding luggage and build some extra time into your departure routine. That should improve your chances of avoiding or overcoming snags once you're at the terminal, said Debby McElroy, executive vice president at Airports Council International -- North America.
"This is really one of the busiest travel periods of the year -- a lot more people in the airport -- and so you want to give yourself enough time," McElroy said.
Central Floridians heading to the Northeast will want to be vigilant this year, as some areas remain without power in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. Airport operations in the region have returned to normal, but the availability of gasoline for motorists in some areas of New York and New Jersey continues to be an issue.
"For a traveler going into the New York/New Jersey area, the No. 1 thing is to plan ahead," said Jessica Brady, a AAA spokeswoman, who suggested motorists fill up before they get into coastal areas affected by Sandy. "Even though the gas rationing ended, it doesn't mean it's going to be very easy to get gasoline," she noted.
Orbitz.com, a online-based travel website, urged travelers going into and out of areas affected by Sandy to call their hotels in advance and reconfirm reservations and transportation access.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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