Holiday Crowds on Roads Expected to Be Bigger Than Last Year

AAA Predicts 115.2 Million Americans Will Drive At Least 50 Miles, a 2.2% Increase Over the Group's 2022 Estimate
Vehicles on road in Colorado
Motorists on Interstate 70 on Nov. 22 in Colorado. Drivers can expect to pay less for gasoline this Christmas compared to last year. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

More Americans are expected to fly or drive far from home over Christmas than they did last year, putting a cap on a busy year for travel.

Auto club AAA forecast Dec. 11 that 115.2 million people will go 50 miles or more from home between Dec. 23 and New Year’s Day. That’s 2.2% more than AAA predicted during the comparable stretch last year.

“That desire to get away is stronger than we have seen in a very long time,” AAA spokeswoman Aixa Diaz said. “People are willing to adjust their budgets in other areas of their life, but they want to keep traveling.”

AAA predicts that the holiday season still will fall 3% short of record travel in 2019, the last Christmas before COVID-19 hit the United States.

Air travel in the U.S. already has rebounded, surpassing 2019 levels.

The number of travelers going through U.S. airport checkpoints is up 12.4% over last year and 1.4% higher than in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Travel around the Thanksgiving Day holiday topped 2019 numbers, peaking at 2.9 million — a single-day record for TSA — screened Nov. 26.

Airlines are predicting a blockbuster holiday season.

Airlines for America says 39 million people — about 2.8 million a day on average — will board U.S. flights between Dec. 20 and Jan. 2. The trade group for big U.S. carriers expects about 3 million on the peak days — the Thursday and Friday before Christmas and the four days after the holiday.

Airplane near Dallas at night

A Southwest Airlines plane makes its final approach at Dallas Love Field Airport near downtown Dallas on Nov. 27. Air travel has already surpassed 2019 levels. Airlines for America expects 2.8 million people per day to board U.S. flights between Dec. 20 and Jan. 2. (Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

The airlines count people more than once if they take connecting flights instead of nonstops, so their numbers are higher than those reported by TSA.

Travel is strong even though many Americans say they are worried about the economy. In an AP-NORC poll last week, seven out of 10 people surveyed rated the economy as poor. But at least inflation has cooled off a bit.

Airline passengers are getting a slight break from last year’s high prices. Average fares in October were 13% lower than a year earlier, according to the government’s latest data.

AAA predicts that 7.5 million people will fly in the U.S. in late December, but the club expects far more — nearly 104 million — to drive over the holidays.


VTNA President Peter Voorhoeve outlines how the truck maker is helping its customers make better use of telematics and remote diagnostics tools to run their fleets more effectively. Tune in above or by going to  

Motorists will pay a bit less to fill up. The national average price for a gallon of gasoline was $3.19 at the end of last week, compared with $3.33 a year earlier, according to AAA. Gas is less than $3 a gallon across a swath in the middle of the country.

Travel for Christmas and New Year’s is spread out over a couple of weeks, so the busiest days rarely match the Thanksgiving peaks — TSA counted a record 2.9 million air travelers on the Sunday after the November holiday.

Transportation data provider Inrix predicted that highways will be busiest Dec. 23 and Dec. 28.

AAA’s Diaz notes that many people still are working during the holidays. Vacationers heading to visit family will be mixing with commuters on the roads, “so rush hour could still be bad,” she said. “We always say leave as early as possible if you’re hitting the road or leave at night.”

Associated Press Staff Writer Rick Gentilo in Washington contributed to this report.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: