Posted: 7:27 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, 2012

More Americans expected to travel this Thanksgiving holiday

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Holiday travel photo
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In the annual forecast, AAA predicts 43.6 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday.
Holiday travel infographic photo
Jennifer Monaghan
Holiday travel infographic
Holidaytravel infographic photo
Jennifer Monaghan
Holidaytravel infographic
Holiday travel infographic photo
Jennifer Monaghan
Holiday travel infographic

By Kyle Nagel

Staff Writer

Highways and airports are expected to be busier this Thanksgiving holiday week, but experts say travelers will stay closer to home while extending their time spent away.

From Wednesday through Sunday, 43.6 million Americans are expected to travel, a slight increase from last year’s 43.3 million travelers, according to AAA, the travel service organization that annually provides holiday traveling forecasts.

The average one-way trip is expected to decrease from 706 miles in 2011 to 588 miles this year, according to the AAA forecast. That trend signals that travelers are choosing non-airline routes more, as 90 percent of all travel this week is expected to come via automobile.

But airlines will continue to keep planes full. Using a date range of Nov. 16-27, Airlines for America, the airlines’ trade association, said it expects 24 million passengers to fly during that period, up slightly from last year. Those travelers will keep planes close to 90 percent full on the busiest days, making airlines, airports and the Federal Aviation Administration extra aware of maintaining schedules because of how many people a delay would affect.

However they travel, Americans are expected to make the long weekend last longer. AAA expects 25 percent of travelers to return home on Monday.

“People are going go stretch it out,” AAA spokesperson Cindy Antrican said.

With that added activity, airports in particular are expected to focus on customer service. During the past two decades, airports have significantly increased amenities and options for travelers, especially to help ease the frustration of a delay or any other interruption in smooth travel.

Some places, like the Dayton International Airport, have seen a boost in travelers this year to help them prepare for a holiday period. Through October, the Dayton airport has seen a 2.5 percent increase in outbound passengers to 1,092,226 in 2012, so it has already felt the increased customers.

“It feels pretty normal (this week) because every day has been pretty busy (this year),” said Linda Hughes, a Dayton International Airport spokesperson. “At airports, it’s feast or famine. You usually have a lot of people in the airport at the same time because of the flight schedules, and a lot of them come back at the same time.”

No matter the preparation, airline delays will occur, so airports have increased attention to customer needs, officials said. They have added charging stations for electronics, changed staffing at eating outlets or businesses inside the airports for busier times and created other ways to relax if a traveler is stuck, they said.

Such attention to travelers is a growing part of the airport industry, said Melissa Sabatine, vice president of regulatory affairs for the American Association of Airport Executives.

“It can be frustrating, especially if you don’t fly a lot,” she said. “Airports are doing whatever they can to make it easier.”

Most Americans traveling from the Wednesday through Sunday period will do so by car. They are planning to scrutinize costs including gas, food, lodging and incidentals more closely than in some previous years as they try to stretch dollars, Antrican said.

Statistics indicate that more people will travel within the region that includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin than the national average, so service businesses, restaurants and lodging places could see an even bigger boost in this region than other parts of the country.

Nationally, the average amount travelers are expected to spend on their trips will drop from $554 last year to $498 this year, according to AAA.

“People are trying to find all kinds of ways to economize,” Antrican said. “I don’t care of it’s 15 cents more per gallon. That’s 15 cents a gallon that could be in your pocket.”

This week begins a period of travel through the beginning of 2013 with plenty of focus on weather. Although this week’s forecast poses no significant threats, officials will be monitoring radar and communicating with meteorologists to try to keep travelers on time, especially with planes more full than in previous years.

That takes a group effort, experts said, which is especially important during holiday periods like this week.

“If there’s a hiccup, it will affect a lot of people,” said William Fife, an aviation industry consultant and former deputy general manager of New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. “These are important times for people, and the traveling industry needs to understand that.”

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