Canonsburg’s own Perry Como once sang that there’s no place like home for the holidays, and millions of Americans seem to be in agreement if predictions made by travel experts are any indication.
According to a forecast released by AAA, more than 109 million Americans will be traveling more than 50 miles from their place of residence between Thursday and Jan. 2 to get together with family and friends for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. That’s a 34% increase over last year, when many Americans opted to stay cocooned during the holidays because of the coronavirus pandemic. When broken out by state, 3.2 million Pennsylvanians will be traveling this holiday season.
Ongoing concerns about COVID-19 have been given more fuel thanks to the omicron variant, which is more contagious than previous versions of the virus and has spread rapidly through the country. Jim Garrity, director of public affairs for AAA East Central, said AAA’s survey of holiday travel was carried out before omicron reared its head and “there could be fluctuations in those numbers.”
Still, Garrity explained, Americans seem eager to ditch virtual meetings and see loved ones face-to-face again.
“If people have been locked up in their homes for the last 15 or 16 months, they think, ‘I’ve got to get out and see the world again,’” he said.
Altogether, 27.7 million additional people will be traveling this year compared to last. It will bring 2021’s numbers to 92% of 2019 levels. Airlines will see a massive escalation in the number of passengers, with AAA forecasting a 184% increase over last year. The busiest days at Pittsburgh International Airport are expected to be this Thursday and Sunday, Jan. 2, according to Bob Kerlik, a spokesman for the airport. More than 25,000 people on average are expected to come through the terminal every day. Due to the crush of passengers and security procedures, travelers are being asked to arrive at least two hours before their flight.
Masks are required onboard aircraft and in terminals.
COVID-19 is apparently not deterring many people from traveling, and neither are gasoline prices. On average, they are about $1.25 more per gallon than at this time last year. The cost of airline flights, hotel rooms and car rentals has also increased over the last 12 months. For those opting to schedule vacation getaways around the holidays, the top spots are Orlando, Fla., Anaheim, Calif., and Las Vegas, according to AAA.
Also, as Como sang, from Atlantic to Pacific, the traffic could well be terrific in the days ahead.
“Anybody who is traveling, you might as well plan as though you’re going to be stuck in traffic,” Garrity said.
On Thursday, for instance, the worst travel time is expected to be between noon and 6 p.m., and the best time falling after 7 p.m. On Friday, the best travel time will be before 1 p.m., with the worst happening later that afternoon through 6 p.m. Minimal congestion is expected on Christmas Day.
The weather will also be cooperating with travelers, at least in this part of the country. Snow will not be making travel treacherous, since high temperatures will be in the 40s and 50s, according to the National Weather Service, though anyone dreaming of a white Christmas will be out of luck.