AAA: Fewer Americans Traveling This Thanksgiving Amid Pandemic

AAA advises caution and preparation for those who decide to travel

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (News Release) — AAA forecasts a significant cutback on travel for Thanksgiving this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Health concerns and unemployment play a major role in what is expected to be the lowest Thanksgiving travel volume in four years, and the largest yearly decline since the Great Recession.

AAA projects 50 million Americans will travel this Thanksgiving. In North Carolina, the expectation is 1.46 million travelers and 698,000 in South Carolina. However, these figures could be even lower as Americans continue to monitor the state of public health, including rising COVID-19 infections, renewed quarantine restrictions and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel notices.

“AAA acknowledges that the decision to travel is a personal one,” said Tiffany Wright, spokesperson, AAA – The Auto Club Group in the Carolinas. “The CDC says staying home is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19. For those who still decide to travel, we urge you to take every precaution possible to protect yourself and others.”

Carolinas Thanksgiving Travel Volumes

  • Automobiles: The vast majority of travelers – around 1.39 million North Carolinians and 660,000 South Carolinians will hit the road, just over 2.5% less than last year.
  • Air Travel: Just over 63,000 North Carolinians will travel by air, along with approximately 29,000 South Carolinians – a 46% decrease from 2019.
  • Other Modes (trains, buses, etc.): About 6,800 North Carolinians will use other modes of transportation, along with an estimated 4,900 South Carolinians – a 76% decrease from last year.

For Americans who make the personal decision to travel for the holiday, it is important to know the risks involved and ways to keep yourself and others safe. In addition to the CDC guidelines, travelers should also be aware of local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders.

What to Know Before You Go

  • Plan Ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you are, along your route, and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.
  • Follow Public Health Guidance. Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least 6 feet) and regular handwashing are the best ways to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. Be sure to pack face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. Also pack water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.
  • Verify Before You Go. Call ahead to minimize any last minute surprises.
  • Hotels. Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining. For added peace of mind, visit AAA.com/Travel to search AAA Diamond-rated properties that earned AAA’s Best of Housekeeping Awards.
  • Car Rentals. If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.
  • Helpful AAA Resources. Visit AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map for the latest state and local travel restrictions.

Road Trips Top Holiday Travel Plans

Those who decide to travel are likely to drive shorter distances and reduce the number of days they are away. This makes road trips the dominant form of travel this Thanksgiving. Travel by automobile is projected to fall 4.3% to 47.8 million travelers and account for 95% of all holiday travel.

“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Wright. “The majority of travelers will go by car, which provides more control over social distancing and flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”

Road Trip Advice

AAA reminds those hitting the road to plan their route ahead. To minimize the number of stops along the way, pack meals, extra snacks and drinks in addition to an emergency roadside kit.

Before you head out, be sure your vehicle is ready for the trip to avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA expects to rescue more than 413,000 Americans at the roadside this Thanksgiving. AAA makes it easy to request assistance – by phone, app or online – and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle.

Fewer Travelers to Fly and Use Other Modes of Transportation

AAA anticipates Thanksgiving air travel volume will be nearly half of last year – at 2.4 million Americans. This would be the largest one-year decrease on record. For these travelers, AAA notes holiday airfares are the lowest in three years. If flying, AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may not be available. Also, as a precaution, wipe down your seat, armrest, belt buckle and tray table using disinfecting wipes.

Travel by “other modes” is forecast to hit record lows. This field – which includes buses, trains and cruises – is expected to decline 76%, to 353,000 travelers. The decline comes as cruise ships remain docked and more travelers opt for car trips instead of taking buses or trains.

Wednesday is Busiest Day on the Roads

The highest volume of traffic will be Wednesday afternoon, according to AAA’s partner INRIX – the global leader in connected car services and transportation analytics. Although traffic volume is expected to be less than in years’ past, travelers in major urban areas will experience increased delays at popular bottlenecks, up to 30% above normal pandemic congestion levels.

Road Trippers to Find Lower Gas Prices this Year

Those who decide to hit the road for the holiday will find cheaper gas prices than last year. On average, US gas prices are nearly 50 cents lower than last Thanksgiving. The national average was ($2.11) per gallon on Thursday. Thanksgiving gas prices haven’t been that low since 2015.

North Carolina’s current gas price average sits at $1.96 per gallon – 44 cents cheaper than last year; whereas South Carolina’s current gas price average sits at $1.89 – 38 cents cheaper than last year.

AAA members can fill up for even less at Shell stations when they join the Fuel Rewards® program at AAA.com/Shell Nov. 15 through Dec. 31. In addition to the five cents per gallon everyday offer, members will receive an additional 10 cents off per gallon on their first three fill-ups after joining for the first time as a Fuel Rewards® member, for a total savings of 15 cents.


About AAA – The Auto Club Group
The Auto Club Group (ACG) is the second largest AAA club in North America with more than 14 million members across 14 U.S. states, the province of Quebec and two U.S. territories. ACG and its affiliates provide members with roadside assistance, insurance products, banking and financial services, travel offerings and more. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with more than 60 million members in the United States and Canada. AAA’s mission is to protect and advance freedom of mobility and improve traffic safety. For more information, get the AAA Mobile app, visit AAA.com , and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.