Over the river and through the woods
If you are embarking today on a Thanksgiving pilgrimage for dinner with family and friends, expect plenty of company on the roads, rails and in the air.
AAA Northern New England projects 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of 0.7 percent over the 43.3 million people who traveled last year. This increase marks the fourth consecutive increase since 2008, when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25 percent.
"This year, the recipe for Thanksgiving travel is three G's," said Nicholas A. Wallner, a spokesman for AAA Northern New England. "Great weather, and lower gas prices, add up to a great holiday travel forecast."
Wallner said travel originating from New Hampshire and the New England region is expected to increase 0.6 percent over the 2011 Thanksgiving holiday period. Automobile travel from the New England region is projected to rise 0.7 percent compared to last year, while AAA calls for a decline in air travel of 1.6 percent.
Officials at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport expect to see a high volume of passengers flying into and out of their facility, despite the forecast for a slight drop.
"We anticipate that approximately 50,000 passengers will travel through the airport during Thanksgiving week," said Tom Malafronte, a spokesman for the airport. "Historically, the busiest travel days are the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving Day and the following Sunday."
According to Wallner, approximately 90 percent of travelers, or 39.1 million people, plan to travel by automobile; 3.14 million will take to the skies.
"There are a few less flights this year, primarily due to Southwest pulling service to Philadelphia, as they did in Boston and Providence, and a few other schedule changes," said Malafronte. "The net passenger total for Thanksgiving week should be close to last year's figures, given the very high load factors that the airlines are expecting."
According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, the average lowest round-trip rate is $188 for the top 40 U.S. air routes - an 11 percent decrease from last year. Approximately 1.3 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.
The forecast indicates that 13.3 percent of the New England population will travel this upcoming Thanksgiving holiday period, which is lower than the national frequency (13.8 percent). However, a slightly higher percentage of the regional population will travel by air than the broader nation (1.3 percent compared to one percent).
"We expect that most, if not all of the flights arriving and departing Manchester, will be full, so it would be prudent to allow a little more time to park, check-in and clear security," advised Malafronte.
AAA projects the national average of gas prices to drop to $3.25 to $3.40 a gallon, near last year's average of $3.32.
Wallner said he has heard from colleagues that many gas stations along the Interstate 95 corridor that were inoperable after Superstorm Sandy are open for business.
"Just to be safe, if I were heading through that area, I would probably gas up before I left Connecticut on the way down," said Wallner.
While many will be focused today on getting away for the holiday, state tourism officials hope just as many head for the Granite State in the coming days to take advantage of Black Friday sales.
"The long Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect opportunity for visitors to make a stay out of it," said Tai Freligh, communications manager for the state's Division of Travel and Tourism Development. "In addition to being tax-free year round, there are many businesses in New Hampshire that offer some great Black Friday specials. Additionally, several ski resorts will be open by Thanksgiving and families can shop and ski and take advantage of ziplines, adventure parks, mountain coasters and other fun outdoors activities."
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Paul Feely may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..