Thanksgiving travel is expected to reach a post-recession high this year, with an estimated 48.7 million Americans venturing out — the most since 2007.
And this year, a host of uncertainties — including gas prices and a potential strike next week at a Chicago airport — will face travelers going home for the holiday.
Ohioans will count for 2 million of those travelers, according to AAA estimates, representing an increase of 2 percent over last Thanksgiving and the most in more than a decade. Improvements to the economy in the second half of this year will contribute to the increase, according to AAA.
Most long-distance holiday travel this year will be by car. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports 91 percent of long-distance holiday travel is by personal vehicle — similar to the 89 percent of travelers who make long-distance trips by personal vehicle during the rest of the year. The agency reports only 5 to 6 percent of holiday trips are by air.
While much of the nation has seen steady gas price relief, prices rose in Ohio after low prices last week.
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Only five states — Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and Missouri— saw an increase in gas prices this week, according to AAA. Ohio and Indiana had the nation’s most dramatic swings in average gas prices, with both states seeing a 10-cent average jump. The average price per gallon for unleaded gasoline in Ohio is $2.09, the association said, while the national average is $2.14.
The average price of regular unleaded gasoline Monday in the Dayton-Springfield region was $2.10 per gallon, according to AAA. This week last year, the per gallon average in our region was $1.79. But in 2014, drivers in the Dayton-Springfield metro saw an average $2.70 per gallon price around Thanksgiving.
The nation’s least expensive gas can be purchased in Oklahoma, where prices average $1.85 per gallon.
The association reports the Great Lakes region is often the country’s most volatile region for gas prices, with significant jumps and drops from day-to-day.
Impaired drivers targeted
State officials are rolling out a new campaign to fight drugged driving this holiday season, in addition to the usual fight against drunk drivers. Last year in Ohio, nine people were killed and 118 seriously hurt in 4,007 crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Alcohol was a factor in 226 crashes, and seat belts were not used in 282 crashes.
“Any time you see more people on the roads, you’re certainly going to have more incidences of impaired driving,” said Matt Bruning, an Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman. “We hope it’s not the case.”
Drugs are an increasing problem on the road, statistics show. Ohio has seen a 25 percent increase in drugged-driving crashes since 2012. The nearly 3,600 drugged-driving crashes so far this year represent about a third of all impaired driving crashes statewide.
ODOT and the State Highway Patrol are using the state’s 130 freeway message signs, as well as additional portable highway signs, to display driver alerts on the rising number of drugged-driving crashes. The signs also advertise Gov. John Kasich’s Start Talking initiative, which encourages family conversations about the dangers of drug use.
O’Hare strike looms
Air passengers traveling through Chicago O’Hare International Airport will be spared at least one nightmare this week — a looming strike by the airport’s private contractors.
But troubles could appear Nov. 29, when members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1 in Chicago are set to hit picket lines. About 500 workers committed to a strike after a vote last week. The employees — which include baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors and wheelchair attendants — are seeking a $15 per hour wage.
A strike could be bad news for travelers hoping to save a few dollars after the weekend rush. According to Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., a Friday or Tuesday return flight typically costs 25 percent less than a Saturday, Sunday or Monday flight.
O’Hare is a major hub for American Airlines and United Airlines, two carriers with Chicago service via James M. Cox Dayton International Airport and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Advice for travelers
Linda Hughes, Dayton International Airport air service coordinator, said the airport has about 54 flights daily, a number that fluctuates slightly during the busy days of the holiday season. She recommended travelers to print their boarding passes at home before coming to the airport.
“Travelers should certainly give themselves plenty of time to get to the airport,” Hughes said. “If there are any weather issues, most of the airlines post updates on their websites.”
Checking in early also allows travelers more options when problems arise, said aviation analyst Jay Ratliff.
“If you check-in early and there’s a problem with your flight, they may try to re-route you to another carrier,” Ratliff said. “You come cutting in the door at the last minute and a lot of those opportunities may be lost.”
Back on the ground, Jason Brown, a manager at AAA Car Care in Huber Heights, said motorists should check batteries, tires and fluids before a long-distance trip.
“Before you get on the trip to grandma’s house, get your car checked out,” Brown said. “Nobody wants to be compromised, sitting on the side of the road for an hour waiting to be towed.”
WHIO-TV reporters John Bedell and Adam Marshall and the Associated Press contributed to this report.