- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thanksgiving travel is predicted to drop for the first time in five years, according to travel officials, the result of a still-recovering economy and overly-cautious consumers.

AAA on Wednesday projected 43.4 million Americans would be traveling 50 miles or more for the holiday, a decrease of about 600,000 people compared to last year.

The slight dip, said AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall L. Doney, was due to several factors, including sluggish improvement of the economy and last month’s federal government shutdown.

“Most of the concern is around the economy, the unemployment rate and job participation rate,” Mr. Doney said. “The government shutdown had an impact on all Americans. People were furloughed and lost wages.”

AAA projected both air and automobile travel would decline this year. About 3.14 million people are expected to fly, about 120,000 fewer people than in 2012, while 38.9 million people will hit the road to get to their destinations.

Despite the decline in air travel, Mr. Doney said passengers should “expect congested airports, and they should expect longer than average security lines.”

Transportation Security Administration officials said they also anticipated crowded airports but were prepared to handle the holiday rush.

“TSA is fully staffed and prepared for record crowds this Thanksgiving,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. “TSA continues to implement risk-based procedures to further strengthen transportation security while improving the passenger experience whenever possible. We remain prepared, especially during this holiday season, to keep passengers safe as they travel.”

Ms. Farbstein’s recommendation for travelers was to come prepared for security checks and arrive at the airport early.

The busiest travel day is expected to be Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving.

Drivers should find it easy to buy gas for less than $3 per gallon, AAA officials said.

“The good news is motorists will receive a holiday bonus in the form of lower gas prices, which are at their lowest levels for the holiday since 2010,” Mr. Doney said.

While there is a decline in the total number of travelers this year, the auto association said numbers are still at some of the highest levels since the 2008 recession.

Travel data shows that in 2008, only 37.8 million people traveled for Thanksgiving compared to the more than 50 million people in 2007. Those numbers have steadily increased since the recession until this year, officials said, thanks in part to the uncertain future at the federal level.

“The can was just kicked down the road to January, and people are aware of that,” Mr. Doney said. “That weighs heavy in people’s minds.”