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Travelers expected to break records

Originally published by Summer Jarro, Daily Sun

The holidays are almost here, which means Central Florida’s roadways and airports soon will be even busier.

Year-end holiday travel in Florida is expected to reach a record high this year, according to AAA.

The association expects about 6.3 million Floridians to travel for the holidays from Friday to Jan. 2, which is about 108,000 more travelers compared with last year. Nationally, the number of travelers expected is slightly lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic but higher than last year. 

About 112.7 million Americans are expected to travel for the remainder of the holiday season, which is 3.6 million more than last year and the third-busiest year-end holiday travel period since AAA began collecting travel data in 2000. 

“Despite inflationary pressures, consumers remain resilient and dedicated to travel this year, and the holidays will be no different,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group, in a news release. “Americans are spending more on travel than any other time in the past two years. The good news is the cost for a holiday road trip will be less expensive than anticipated now that gas prices are on the way down.”

Gas Prices and Car Travel

Gas prices are looking good for those planning to travel by car for the holidays.

In Florida, the average cost of regular gas has decreased for five straight weeks. Since mid-November, gas prices have dropped 54 cents per gallon. On Sunday, regular gas in Florida was an average of $3.04 per gallon, which was the lowest average since September of last year, according to AAA. 

Since most Americans already have made their holiday travel plans, these plunging pump prices may not necessarily lead to more auto travelers,” said Mark Jenkins, public relations manager for AAA, in a news release.

As of Monday, the current average for regular gas in Florida was $3.03, which is 20 cents less than this time last year. Nationally, regular gas dropped by 12 cents since last week to $3.14, which is 16 cents less than a year ago, according to AAA.

The decrease in gas prices across the state and nationally is good news for those driving to their destinations, as about 90% of Americans planning to travel will do so by car. About 5.8 million Floridians will travel by car, which is 110,000 more travelers than last year and a 2% increase from 2019, according to AAA.

Air Travel

Travel by plane this end-of-year holiday season is up.

About 7.2 million Americans are expected to fly for the holidays, which is up about 14% compared with last year and close to the same number of travelers in 2019, which had about 7.3 million people travel by air, according to AAA. 

“If the distance is not reasonable to drive, more people are flying to maximize the time spent at their destination,” Haas said in a news release.

Tampa International Airport expects the next two-and-a-half weeks to be very busy.

About 65,000 to 70,000 passengers are expected at the airport each day leading up to Christmas and the New Year. The busiest days of travel are expected to be Thursday and Friday, New Year’s Eve and Jan. 2. More than 75,000 passengers are expected to come through on those days, according to a news release. 

Orlando International Airport was even busier for Thanksgiving than anticipated and staff expect that momentum to continue for the end-of-year holidays. 

“We’re back to almost pre-pandemic travel,” said Carolyn Fennell, a spokesperson for Orlando International Airport.

Fennell recommends passengers traveling domestically get to the airport about two to three hours before the flight. Passengers traveling internationally are recommended to arrive more than three hours before their flight. 

“Timing is everything,” Fennell said.

After the busier-than-expected Thanksgiving holiday, it is recommended that passengers be dropped off at the airport to ensure parking garages and surface parking lots don’t reach full capacity. 

“More people are traveling than anticipated, so we are a desired destination,” Fennell said.

Orlando International Airport expects about 3 million passengers to travel in and out of the airport during its 19-day end-of-year holiday travel season, which started Friday and ends Jan. 3. This is a 17% increase in travelers compared with last year, which saw about 2.5 million people at the airport, according to a Greater Orlando Aviation Authority news release. 

The busiest day for travel is expected to be Jan. 2, with more than 162,000 passengers traveling through the airport. The least busiest day is expected to be Christmas Day. Fifteen of the 19-day travel period show a double-digit percentage increase compared with last year, according to a news release.