Despite rising gas prices, many North Carolinians expected to travel over holiday

Published 7:36 pm Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More North Carolinians are expected to travel this Thanksgiving weekend, despite a 63 cents a gallon average increase in gas prices compared to a year ago.

AAA Carolinas is predicting 1,167,000 will travel more than 50 miles from home, an increase of 27,000 (2.3%) compared to last year. While automobile travel will increase by 29,000 (3.1%) motorists, air travel will decline by 5,000 (6.6%) fliers and other travel (bus, train, etc.) will increase by 3,000(2.8%).

Thanksgiving is a family holiday and after a year of economic turmoil, people want to get away, said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. Gas prices have been creeping upward again but it isnt enough to deter most peoples vacation plans.

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This is the third straight year air travel has decreased. This year there are new fees for baggage and other previously free services, plus peak fare surcharges for Thanksgiving travel, a continuing cutback in the number of flights, smaller capacity planes and deteriorating on-time arrival (one of every five flights nationally is delayed an average of 48 minutes).

Overall, it is expected slightly just less than one million North Carolinians will drive this holiday, 77,000 will fly and 107,000 will use other transportation.

North Carolinians will average 1,077 miles on their trip and spend an average of $796 for items such as fuel, accommodations, food and beverages, shopping and entertainment. Ninety-one percent of travelers will travel with one or more family members with 60% visiting family or friends over the holidays with primary activities dining 53% and shopping 49%.

After increasing in previous weeks, the average price of gasoline statewide has begun declining recently and the average price today is $2.593 compared to $2.606 a month ago.

The highest average price is in Asheville at $2.635 per gallon of unleaded self-service; the least expensive average price is in Winston-Salem at $2.549.

Traffic delays are expected in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee due to the rock slide that has closed a section of I-40. Motorists will also experience construction-related lane closures in both directions along I-85 near High Point. (Mile marker 113)

With heavy traffic expected on the roads this weekend, families should take extra measures to ensure safety on the highway. AAA Carolinas recommends:

– Drivers take a break every two hours or 150 miles. Get out and stretch to reenergize your brain as well as pump blood to your muscles.

– On long trips, switch drivers regularly, preferably with someone who has been sitting in the back seat. Passengers sitting in the front seat with the driver are paying attention to the road as well and can experience just as much fatigue as the driver.

– Add about 15 minutes to every hour the trip typically takes to drive cautiously with the increased traffic

– Get a vehicle checkup before hitting the road. Be sure to check fluids and your tires, especially the spare tire.

– Follow the rules of the road. Obey the speed limit, wear seat belts and never drink and drive.

Air travel: Air travelers should be ready to pay for checked baggage, snacks, preferred seating and even pillows and blankets.

AAA Carolinas recommends that fliers:

Carry a bag on the plane to save baggage check-in costs and possible delays in baggage areas.

Be sure to have required identification available such as drivers license, state photo identity cards or U.S. passport to go through security lines.

Any carry-on bags must follow the 3-1-1 rule. Only three ounces or less of liquids or gels can be carried, in a one-quart size zip lock bag in one bag to be carried on the plane.

Purchase any water, drinks, snacks or food to carry on the plane after passing through airport security, saving money over the cost of food offered for sale on the plane.