The American Automobile Association expects a 10 percent reduction in Thanksgiving travelers next week because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s predicted to be the lowest travel volume since the Great Recession and the end of 11 straight years of travel growth for the holiday weekend.
While many Americans have disposable income to travel, Matthew Conde, AAA public and government affairs director in Boise, said consumer confidence is in limbo and COVID-19 travel restrictions and safety concerns will discourage many people from visiting family and friends for Thanksgiving this year.
Conde said the return of some economic prosperity after the Great Recession greatly contributed to the 11 consecutive years of Thanksgiving travel growth.
“You saw consumer confidence starting to go way up, and year over year that confidence grew,” Conde said.
While there will be fewer travelers overall this week, Conde said a greater proportion of them will travel by car. Last year, 89 percent of travelers used a car but he expects that number to jump to 95 percent this year.
Conde said people are looking for a safety bubble and one way to do that is by avoiding populated airplanes and buses and driving alone or with few family or friends. He said he expects most Thanksgiving travel this year to involve shorter distances and last-minute trips as people wait and see what COVID-19 conditions are like.
“I think that those decisions are going to be very last minute in a lot of cases,” Conde said.
Based on mid-October data, AAA expected a 10 percent decrease in Thanksgiving travel, with 50 million Americans, including 266,000 Idahoans, making trips, according to a AAA news release. But a recent rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and travel restrictions means 10 percent might be on the generous side, meaning the percent decrease could be higher, Conde said. About 296,000 Idahoans traveled for Thanksgiving last year, he said.
Conde said drivers should do a pre-trip inspection of their vehicle, including checking the tires, engine and battery. He said AAA expects to rescue 413,000 Americans over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which is Wednesday through Sunday, and dead batteries and tire issues will be some of the most popular problems drivers face.
Conde said drivers should also check weather conditions and emergency kits as well as tell family members where they are going and when they expect to arrive.
Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport Executive Director Tony Bean said Thanksgiving weekend tends to be one of the busiest times of the year at the airport. Daily flights and seating capacity have been reduced for several months because of the pandemic, but Bean said he expects the number of available seats to be pretty full for the holiday weekend.
He said the airport offers two Seattle flights a day, down from five before COVID-19. Bean said he expects two flights for the foreseeable future. He said Alaska Airlines allows a maximum 57 passengers on its 76-seat planes to allow for social distancing.
There has been an increase in passengers the last few days, including at least one flight with 56 passengers, Bean said.
“We’re starting to see activity,” he said.
Mike O’Brien, general manager at Best Western Plus University Inn in Moscow, said he expects a lot fewer guests than normal next weekend because of COVID-19 restrictions and safety concerns.
He said the hotel is full Thanksgiving weekend when the Washington State University football team is expected to host the Apple Cup, barring postponements or cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Otherwise, it is at 50 to 60 percent capacity, below the average 70 percent occupancy throughout the year.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.