Residents are staying home for the holidays this year — at least, a lot of them are, AAA said Thursday.
However, for those who are traveling, hitting the road is the most popular mode of transportation, AAA Western and Central New York officials said during a call with the media.
The number of people traveling during the holidays this year will see its first decline since 2008 and the lowest travel volume since 2002.
“I’ve worked at AAA for more than five years and in that time, I’ve never seen a decline in travel until this year,” said Director of Public Relations Elizabeth Carey.
Carey said AAA wanted to continue its holiday travel forecast this year, but added AAA is not encouraging people to travel.
“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reminds everyone that the safest place for everyone is at home,” she said. “However, we know that people will choose to travel. For those who do choose to, we want to make sure they’re informed and also prepared.”
A lot of people are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to holiday travel and booking, Carey said. AAA is forecasting at least a 29 percent decline in travel for the year-end holidays, according to Carey.
“I say ‘at least’ because we know numbers could still change. COVID-19 remains a concern, so it’s likely that many travelers will make last-minute decisions, choose not to follow through with their travel plans and say, ‘I’m just going to stay right here at home,’” she said.
Carey said as many as 84.5 million travelers are expected to travel for the holidays, compared to about 119.5 million last year.
Director of Travel for AAA of Western and Central New York Brian Murray said AAA knows there is a lot of pent-up demand for travel this year.
“People are looking to book future trips and looking to those travel opportunities. Many travelers have credits to use and so they’re really looking to make arrangements now to have something to look forward (to) in the future,” he said.
Murray said as many as 2.9 million people will travel by air, a 59-percent decline from the 7.3 million in 2019.
“Not all travelers are going to follow through with taking flights, choosing to either stay home or change plans and travel by car, so those numbers are probably going to drop a little bit further,” he said. “Travelers should be aware of limited airport services, seating and social distancing. Not every restaurant is open in the airport. It’s really important to plan ahead.”
AAA also recommends to air travelers that in-flight amenities such as food and beverage services are very limited or maybe not available.
“TSA (Transportation Security Administration) does allow hand sanitizer on the plane, but as a precaution, we recommend everyone wipe down their seats and arm rests, belt buckles and tray tables and really focus on keeping that area clean,” he said. “If you’re flying and you plan to bring holiday gifts, don’t wrap them until you arrive at your destination. You’re going to have to unwrap them at TSA.”
Air travelers should sign up for alerts from the airlines so they have the latest information, Murray said. Travelers will get an update and a text message from their airlines for any cancellations or reschedules.
Normally, there are 25 to 30 flights available from Buffalo to New York City, for example, according to the director of travel.
“We reported at Thanksgiving that those numbers dropped to only five flights. Since Thanksgiving, no additional flights have been added,” he said. “That really shows the reduced demand for air travel, not only in the Buffalo-to-New York market, but many other destinations as well.”
Murray said the CDC recommends a COVID-19 test one to three days before travel and five days upon return to help travelers avoid quarantine. For hotel stays, call ahead to make sure the hotel is open and ask what precautions a hotel is taking.
“Every hotel is a little different. They’re really trying to take care of their guests and making everything clean and safe, but some hotels may not be open right now,” he said. “Restaurant dining may be limited as well. It’s really key to be prepared before you leave.”
AAA of Western and Central New York Communications Specialist April Engram said the number of people driving for the holidays will go down, but not as drastically as other forms of travel. Up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of at least 25 percent from last year.
“For those who decide to hit the road … gas prices remain much cheaper than they did last year,” she said, noting that on Thursday, the average price for regular gas in the state is $2.28 per gallon. That went down from $2.68 per gallon a year ago.
“You can always find the lowest gas prices in your area right on the AAA mobile app,” she said.
Planning in advance is important when driving during the holidays, Engram said. Travelers should check state restrictions and go to triptik.aaa.com for the COVID restrictions map. The map is updated daily.
Central New York Fleet Manager in Syracuse Todd Ingraham said this holiday season, AAA anticipates rescuing about 905,000 travelers from roadside incidents.
“Please use caution when you’re driving and remember there are a couple of things you can control with your vehicle in the snow,” he said. “You need to make sure you have good tires and remember to watch your speed.”
As of Thursday, the average gas prices for Batavia were $2.22 per gallon, the same as Wednesday’s average. The average cost of regular unleaded in Batavia a month ago was $2.19 and a year ago was $2.65.
The average cost Thursday in Genesee County was $2.22 per gallon for regular gas. In Orleans County Thursday, the cost was about $2.27; in Wyoming, it was $2.27 and in Livingston County, it was $2.25.
Holiday travel by the numbers:
• 84.5 million travelers, Dec. 23, 2020-Jan. 3, 2021; 119.5 million, 2019
• 2.9 million travelers by air, 2020; 7.3 million, 2019
• 81 million travelers by car, 2020; at least 25 percent less than 2019