Christmas Holiday Travel to Be Down
For the fifth consecutive holiday, fewer Carolinians overall plan to travel in 2008, according to AAA Carolinas.
Travel by air will decrease nearly 8 percent while travel by vehicle will increase slightly.
Christmas holiday travelers are expected to number 1.9 million in North Carolina, down 22,000 travelers compared to last Christmas.
It is the first decline in Christmas holiday travel in the Carolinas since 2002.
Lower gasoline prices are encouraging more travel by vehicle, with prices this holiday more than $1.27 a gallon less than in 2007 and more than $2.50 less than September peak gasoline prices.
At the same time, airlines have reduced the number of flights and locations where they fly by 10 percent. Fares have been declining recently as airlines seek to fill as many seats as possible every flight. Current holiday fares are roughly equal to 2007.
"The economy is the grinch in this year's Christmas holiday travel period," said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. "Planes will be packed with the airlines' capacity cutbacks. Winter weather can trigger delays and cancellations creating chaos and hassles at airports.
"Those who are driving will enjoy the lower gas prices but must be concerned about the future of our struggling economy."
In North Carolina, holiday vehicle travel will increase from 1.65 million to 1.66 million, an increase of about 3,000. Air travel in North Carolina is expected to drop from 318,000 in 2007 to 294,000 this year.
Travel on the road was expected to be the heaviest Tuesday and today (Wednesday), with most of these travelers returning on the following weekend.
The average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline in North Carolina is $1.64, down $1.31 from 2007, and down $2.45 since September's record high.
In South Carolina, the average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline is $1.55, down $1.27 from last year, and down $2.57 since its record high in September.
"Low gasoline prices may encourage some travelers to make last-minute plans for trips over the holidays," Parsons said. "We expect gas prices to stay low through the end of the year and for the first quarter."
North Carolina's statewide average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is $1.64, the lowest price statewide since March 2004.
Gas costs are highest in Asheville at $1.69 for a gallon of regular unleaded while the lowest gas is in Boone and Winston-Salem, both at $1.59 for a gallon of regular unleaded.
With a statewide average of $1.55 a gallon for regular unleaded, South Carolina is seeing its lowest gas prices since February 2004.
The highest priced gas is in Charleston at $1.58 for a gallon of regular unleaded while the lowest priced gas is available in Greenville at $1.51 for a gallon of regular unleaded.
With heavy traffic expected on the roads this holiday, families should take extra measures to ensure safety on the highway.
Traffic fatalities in both states decreased last year over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Last year, North Carolina saw fatalities over Christmas holiday drop form 22 to 16.
"Traveling over the holidays, drivers sometimes push the envelope, traveling while tired and anxious to get to their destination," Parsons said. "Law enforcement in both states will be looking for speeders, drunk drivers and aggressive drivers."
AAA Carolinas encourages drivers to take a break every two hours or 150 miles to recover their mental acuity and follow the rules of the road -- travel the speed limit, wear seat belts and never drink and drive.
"With airlines cutting flights and trying to increase capacity per plane, travelers may find it more difficult to find flights at the time, price and to the location they want to travel," Parson said.
Some airlines have been dropping prices to combat travelers' reluctance to face airport hassles and flight disruptions, said Parsons, noting some last-minute fares -- especially for those willing to travel Christmas Day and New Year's Days -- are decreasing.
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