SALT LAKE CITY — Travel experts say generally rosy economic conditions coupled with sub-$3-per-gallon gas prices will help elevate travel volumes over the Thanksgiving holiday to levels not seen since the mid-2000s.
AAA spokesman Michael Blasky told the Deseret News his organization was predicting the number of people traveling over the upcoming holiday will exceed 2017 numbers by almost 5 percent and hit the highest levels since 2005.
"We are projecting a record 54 million Americans traveling 50 miles or more over the Thanksgiving holiday," Blasky said. "The positive economy and a labor market close to full employment are really giving people confidence about spending money on travel this year."
Blasky said the lion's share of those travelers, around 48 million, will be driving to their holiday destinations, and fuel prices, only slightly over last year's rates, don't seem to be quelling the collective desire to hit the road for Thanksgiving.
"Gas prices are about 30 to 50 cents higher than last year … but they don't seem to be making a dent in people's enthusiasm for holiday travel," Blasky said.
Thanksgiving-related air travel will see an even bigger increase this year than driving, according to AAA, projected to reach 4.27 million passengers, a 5.4 percent jump over 2017.
Salt Lake City International Airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said the airport is preparing for a very busy, but not record-breaking, week.
"We're not expecting any records here but maybe a bit higher volumes than last year," Volmer said. "We're projecting Wednesday to be the busiest day at the airport with around 25,000 passengers expected."
Volmer reminds holiday travelers to be at the airport at least 2 hours before a domestic flight departure and at least 3 hours ahead of an international flight.
She also encouraged those planning to travel by plane over the holiday to check their flight's on-time status before heading to the airport and follow the U.S. Transportation and Safety Administration guidelines on carrying liquids. The TSA allows one quart-size clear bag containing liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes limited to 3.4 ounces per item. More travel info can be found at tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips.
Volmer said the current construction project under way at the airport will not hinder holiday travelers. She noted the entrance to the airport, which was temporarily re-aligned to accommodate construction work, has been returned to its original pathway.
To help keep the extra passenger traffic moving smoothly, Volmer said the airport will deploy "airport ambassadors" throughout the facility to help answer questions and assist with directions. Also, as has become a tradition at the airport, there will be live musical performances on Wednesday to celebrate the holiday and "help keep harried passengers in positive spirits", Volmer said.
For those staying close to home for the holiday, the Utah Transit Authority reminds riders that regular service is suspended on Thanksgiving Day and most modes will be running on the Saturday schedule on Black Friday. Visit rideuta.com for more information.
The Utah Department of Transportation is encouraging residents to plan ahead for their Thanksgiving travel and warned drivers to expect increased southbound traffic on Wednesday between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., with northbound traffic heavier between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. On Monday, due to return trips, UDOT expects northbound I-15 will see heavier traffic from 2 p.m. through 7 p.m., while southbound traffic will be heavier during the typical commute times from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
While most UDOT projects have been completed or are pausing for the winter, construction continues year-round on the I-15 Technology Corridor project in Lehi. The northbound I-15 lanes are split from 2100 North to state Route 92, and the speed limit is reduced to 60 miles per hour through the construction zone from S.R. 92 to Main Street. UDOT encourages drivers to stay alert when traveling through the work zone and anticipate areas of rough or uneven pavement.2 comments on this story
Blasky noted AAA will be offering its Tipsy Tow service on Wednesday evening ahead of the holiday, but noted the annual effort to assist those who may too impaired to drive is meant to be an option-of-last-resort versus a commuting plan.
"We encourage everyone to make the appropriate plans for alternative transportation for holiday celebrations," Blasky said. "But, if plans fall through we can tow a vehicle, along with the driver and one passenger, back to their home."
More information on AAA Tipsy Tow and other holiday travel safety advice can be found at newsroom.aaa.com/safety/holiday-safe-ride-program.