Report says improving economy allows more to leave home for holidaysby Anissa Stocks, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The roads leading to Grandma's house will likely be a little more congested this Thanksgiving as the U.S. economy shows signs of recovery.
A report by AAA shows 4 million more people than last year will hit the road Wednesday through Sunday of this week. Those traveling by air should also expect crowded conditions.
The motor club and travel agency said the number of Americans traveling over the holiday weekend will increase 11 percent from 2009, with more than 42 million travelers taking a trip at least 50 miles from home. Ninety-four percent will go by car.
Gail Weinholzer, spokeswoman for AAA Minnesota/Iowa, said the annual report found that improved economic conditions combined with a decrease in consumer debt account for the growth.
"People have decided that this is a good opportunity to get out and visit with family and friends," she said.
Nearly 40 million travelers are expected on the roads Thanksgiving weekend, down from the peak of more than the 58 million in 2005. The number hit its low point in 2008 and barely increased in 2009.
This year, though, AAA expects a 12 percent increase in driving compared to 2009. The number of holiday flyers will increase by 3.5 percent, AAA said.
The AAA report predicted an average traveling distance of 816 miles, either by plane or car.
At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, spokesman Pat Hogan said officials expect a 5 to 7 percent travel increase this holiday season. That continues an uptick in air travel that began in August, he said.
"There has been a large travel decline in the last several years, but I think we've turned a corner this year. This gain will flow into the next year," he said.
Hogan said travelers should expect to see longer lines due to heavy foot traffic and increased airport security, including the new high-tech body scanners that arrived in September.
Traveling this Thanksgiving won't be cheaper than last year. Average holiday airfare is up about 7 percent, according to Travelocity.com. Weinholzer said a gallon of gas in Minnesota costs 25 cents more than in 2009.
"No doubt it's having somewhat of a negative impact but certainly not enough to prevent people from traveling," she said.
Construction manager Robert Jodsas, who will spend the weekend with his family in Fargo, N.D., said he doesn't worry about the price of gas when it comes to visiting his family.
"We try to get where we're going and we try to get there no matter what," Jodsas said.
Other Minnesotans said the improving economy will allow them to travel more this year.
"Our debts have eased," said Rebecca Koenig, of Little Canada, who hasn't been able to visit her parents in Boston for several years. Because of a more stable economic climate, her family will be able to take a trip there in January.
The Boston trip will be in addition to the family's regular car trip to Alexandria, Minn., to visit her husband's relatives, Koenig said.
Joerg Kessler, of Ramsey, said he's also choosing to spend more money on trips this year. He and his wife traveled to Ireland in the spring, and they'll spend Thanksgiving in Mexico.
Kessler said he thinks his situation is similar to many Americans who hit harder times last year.
"I think everyone is saying to themselves, 'We deserve it this year,'" he said.