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More Thanksgiving travelers expected to hit the road for the holiday

By Katia Hetter and Aaron Cooper, CNN
updated 1:46 PM EST, Tue November 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More Thanksgiving travelers are driving this year than last year
  • Fewer people are taking to the air to celebrate Thanksgiving this year
  • People are spending less and driving shorter distances this year
  • People should still pack carefully and follow TSA guidelines when going through security

(CNN) -- Some 43.6 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving holiday, a slight increase over the 43.3 million people who traveled last year, according to AAA projections.

While it's the fourth consecutive year of growth in the number of holiday travelers, people are still finding ways to economize during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period (Wednesday, November 21 to Sunday, November 25).

Most people drive rather than fly to their holiday destinations, but even more are driving this year: Some 90% of travelers will travel by car, a 0.6 percent increase. At the same time, the number of people flying is expected to drop from 3.2 million last year to 3.14 million this year.

"When it come to making choices, carving turkey with family and friends trumps pinching pennies," said AAA president and CEO Robert Darbelnet, speaking at a Tuesday press conference.

Higher gas prices earlier in the year may have convinced some people to travel shorter distances for the holiday, Darbelnet said. Car travelers are expected to drive an average of 588 miles this year compared to 706 miles last year. They are also spending less on travel, with median spending expected to drop 10% this year to $498.

Drivers can expect a little relief at the gas pump. The national average price of gasoline will drop to between $3.25-3.40 a gallon by Thanksgiving, according to AAA estimates. Despite this year's historically high prices, the national average dropped by nearly 40 cents a gallon since early October and is likely to continue dropping through the end of the year.

TSA promises to be fully staffed

Even with the slight decline in air travel projections for this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, planes are expected to be full or nearly full. That's why Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole promised Tuesday that the agency will be fully staffed to speed travelers to their destinations.

"We understand that holiday travel can be stressful and that a great trip often begins with a positive experience at the airport," said Pistole, speaking at a Tuesday press conference at Reagan National Airport.

"To this end, TSA will be fully staffed and prepared for the high volume of passengers this holiday season. With everyone's security at the forefront, we continue and are committed to processing passengers as safely and efficiently as possible," Pistole added.

Pistole advised travelers to follow some basic steps to speed up the security process.

Call TSA Cares with medical issues: Travelers with disabilities and medical conditions should contact the TSA Cares helpline (855-787-2227) before their travel dates to see if they need to take any extra steps or if they qualify for extra assistance to clear security.

Don't wrap presents: A TSA officer may have to unwrap gifts to inspect the contents. What a drag for your kids to see what you bought them for Christmas before the actual day!

Ship desserts in advance: Sometimes a pie isn't just a pie -- it's a prohibited liquid. So while cakes and pies are permitted on airplanes, your confection may require further inspection and may not necessarily be permitted to board. Remember the cupcake fiasco of 2012? Consider baking once you get to Grandma's house.

Follow the 3-1-1 rule: Most liquids can be carried in bottles that hold 3 ounces or less, once placed in a quart-sized, clear, plastic, zipped bag to hold all of your small bottles. There's a limit of one bag per passenger. You may have gotten away with more bottles on your business trips, but those flights likely weren't as full as your holiday flight is going to be.

That liquid rule includes snow globes: You can bring small snow globes as carry-on luggage as long as they are less than 3.4 ounces and packed in your 3-1-1 bag. If you're not sure, leave the globe at home or ship it. Otherwise, it may get seized.

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