Holiday travelers are canceling flights and driving instead

Winter traffic jam.
Photo credit Getty Images

Those hitting the road this holiday season should brace themselves for heavy traffic.

According to a new survey, around 20 percent of travelers who booked flights for the season have since canceled them and plan to hit the road instead.

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Survey results were finalized before the highly contagious COVID-19 variant omicron became international news, the company said. More than half said they had concerns about the delta variant.

“The holidays are a time for gathering, and with lingering pandemic concerns and the rise in remote work, travel trends are changing,” said Mike Hanley, senior editor. “Our data state 1 in 5 travelers had a flight booked this holiday season, but canceled it to drive instead.”

Hanley also said Americans with new flexible work schedules are also opting to stay longer at their destinations.

The Federal Highway Administration recently said their analysis found travel could be 20 percent higher this week than the same time last year.

Overall, the survey found that 42 percent of Americans have decided to take road trips to their holiday destinations because they don't want to take other forms of public transportation. More than 80 percent of travelers plan to get to their destinations by driving.

Around 56 percent of survey respondents said they would travel 50 miles or more this holiday season, up 30 percent compared to last year, the first holiday season of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the most part, people are traveling to family residences.

A majority of survey respondents, 56 percent, said they were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 21 percent said they were not vaccinated and have no plans to become vaccinated before traveling.

As of December 14, AAA estimated that 109 million people would travel this holiday season across various transportation methods.

“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new omicron variant,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different, and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”

While demand for gasoline increased last week ahead of the Christmas holiday, AAA said omicron concerns could threaten future global oil consumption.

“A recovering economy coupled with strong employment is leading to increased demand for gasoline,” said Andrew Gross, an AAA spokesperson. “This demand increase should drive pump prices higher, but it’s been blunted by the wavering price of crude oil.”

For motorists, unsteady crude oil prices have at least one positive side effect -- lower gas prices. According to AAA, the national average for gas recently dropped three cents. said close to 40 percent of winter holiday travelers plan to hit the road Thursday morning at the earliest, so the site recommends getting a head start on Wednesday. This is especially true for those heading South, where one third of travelers are going.

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