Fewer people are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year.
Some 43.4 million Americans are predicted to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday next week, a 1.5% decrease from the 44 million people who traveled last year, according to AAA projections.
The number of people traveling at least 50 miles from home during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period fell short of last year's four-year high. Travel company AAA describes the Thanksgiving holiday travel period as Wednesday, November 27 to Sunday, December 1.
Some 90% of travelers drive rather than fly during the holiday, but fewer are also driving this year: Some 38.9 million travelers will drive, a decrease of 1.6%. The number of people flying is also expected to drop 3.7% from 3.26 million last year to 3.14 million this year, according to AAA.
"While the economy continues to improve, the sluggish pace of the recovery is creating uncertainty in the minds of some consumers and therefore AAA is projecting a slight decline in the number of Thanksgiving travelers this year," said AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall L. Doney, in a Wednesday press statement. "For those traveling the good news is motorists will receive a holiday bonus in the form of lower gas prices which are at their lowest levels for the holiday since 2010."
The Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday will be the holiday's busiest overall travel day, according to AAA. Thirty-seven percent of travelers expect to travel on Wednesday and the second busiest day will be Sunday, with 33% planning to return home that day.
For fliers, the busiest travel day is expected to be Sunday, December 1, with an estimated 2.56 million travelers, according to Airlines for America, an airline industry group. The second busiest is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (November 27) with 2.42 million fliers. Those numbers compare to the estimated 1.87 million travelers on Saturday, November 23.
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
Drivers may find some relief at the gas pump, with AAA predicting prices of lower than $3 per gallon at gas stations in most states -- the cheapest gas prices for the Thanksgiving holiday in three years. The national average price of gas is at its cheapest level of the year and is expected to continue dropping for weeks.
Car travelers are expected to drive an average of 601 miles this year compared to 588 miles last year. They are also spending less on travel, with median spending expected to drop from $498 last year to $465 this year.
Help for the infrequent traveler
If you are flying this holiday season and rarely fly, here's a bit of helpful holiday advice from the Transportation Security Administration:
What about my shampoo and conditioner? Follow the TSA's 3-1-1 rule. If you want to travel with liquids in your carry-on bags, you can most likely bring them in bottles that hold 3.4 ounces or less, placed in one quart-sized, clear, plastic, zipped bag. (One bag per passenger, please.) Frequent business travelers: Just because you carried more bottles on your weekly trips doesn't mean you will be allowed during the holidays. These flights will likely be full, and you don't want to be the one slowing down your TSA security line. Travelers with medication, disabilities or medical conditions. People can travel with their medication, but make sure to tell the TSA officers at the start of the screening. And there are rules to follow. Travelers who need extra assistance because of disabilities or medical conditions can call the TSA Cares line at 855-787-2227 before your trip for guidance.
Don't wrap your presents (yet). While there's no absolute rule against wrapped gifts, TSA officers may need to unwrap your gifts to inspect them. Why not wait until you land to wrap them?
Don't carry a knife. Knives are still prohibited in carry-on luggage, but they can be placed in checked luggage. (Yes, there was a debate earlier in the year about knives, but the knives didn't win the right to fly in the passenger cabins.)
Don't carry a gun. Passengers carrying guns up to a TSA security checkpoint can be subject to arrest and prosecution, even if bringing your weapon was an accident. Check TSA and airline regulations before trying to transport firearms and ammunition. Knitting needles are dandy. Knitting needles and other needlepoint items -- including scissors under 4 inches -- can be packed in your carry-on bags. But any cutter with a blade, including circular thread cutters, must be packed in your checked baggage.
Use those e-devices. The Federal Aviation Administration has eased up rules on the use of portable electronics devices aboard airlines flying within the United States, so you may be able to watch a downloaded movie or read an e-book below 10,000 feet. But check your airline's website first to make sure it's gotten approval from the FAA. Talking on cell phones is still not allowed in-flight and no connecting to the Internet unless the flight attendants say so.
Still have questions? Call the TSA. Really. Call the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673 about your upcoming travel, TSA rules and any feedback about your travel. It's open Monday -- Friday, 8 a.m. -- 11 p.m. ET. It's also open weekends and federal holidays, 9 a.m. -- 8 p.m. ET.
Are you traveling for the Thanksgiving or December holiday season? Please share in the comments below.