A record number of people in Georgia are expected to take road trips for the Fourth of July weekend — in spite of high gas prices — and planes are also likely to be fuller than last year as Americans take holiday vacations, according to AAA.
The July Fourth weekend is one of the busier travel periods of the year and Americans appear undaunted by rising fuel and hotel prices and crowded highways and airports, data show.
“Earlier this year, we started seeing demand for travel increase and it’s not tapering off,” said Debbie Haas, AAA vice president of travel, in a statement.
Of the 1.5 million Georgians expected to travel over the the Fourth of July period from Thursday June 30 to Monday July 4, the vast majority will be traveling by car, according to the auto club’s forecast.
A total of nearly 1.4 million are expected to take road trips, up 1.2% year-over-year. Roughly 102,000 others are expected to fly, up 1.5% from last year, AAA said.
Still, compared with 2019 pre-pandemic levels, AAA’s figures show air travel is still down 7.8%, while travel by car is up 7.7%. The spread of COVID-19 caused air travel to plummet in 2020 before partially recovering last year, and many have opted to fly less and drive more when vacationing.
Another key factor is the sharp rise in air fares, with prices up 47% since January, according to a recent Adobe Analytics forecast.
Mass flight cancellations, airline cutbacks and travel hassles are also affecting attitudes toward air travel. Short-staffed air carriers are struggling to handle the surge in travelers, in some cases causing long waits for service and leaving passengers stranded after flight disruptions.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is now advising travelers to get to the airport two-and-a-half hours before their flights. Long security lines stretch through the terminal during peak periods with waits of up to 30-45 minutes at checkpoints.
Road trips come with their own challenges. Gas prices are forecast by AAA to be the most expensive in history for Independence Day, up 52% from a year ago. The average gas price as of Sunday was $4.47 a gallon in Georgia and $4.98 nationally. A round trip from Atlanta to Orlando in a Honda Accord costs about $136 just for the gas, according to a GasBuddy.com trip cost calculator.
In 2021, the average gas price in Georgia on July 4 was $2.91, and in 2019 it was $2.58.
“Consumers’ need for travel has caused them to largely absorb the increased travel costs,” said American Society of Travel Advisors CEO Zane Kerby during a travel industry forecast Tuesday.
But higher fuel prices are weighing on travelers, according to a Fourth of July survey by travel website The Vacationer. Its poll conducted by SurveyMonkey showed most survey respondents said high fuel prices will affect their travel plans for the holiday in some way, whether they plan to drive or fly and are paying higher air fares. Expensive fuel may affect how much money travelers have to spend on other expenses during their trips, according to The Vacationer.
Mid-range hotel rates are up about 23% compared with last year, according to AAA.
Some travelers are choosing an option other than flying or driving. More than 51,000 people in Georgia plan to travel by bus, train or cruise for the Independence Day weekend, according to the AAA forecast. That’s up 151% from last year, but still down 35.6% from 2019.
Nationally, nearly 48 million people are expected to travel for Independence Day, up 4% from last year — including 42 million traveling by car, AAA says. Air travel nationwide is expected to be up 1.5% year-over-year, but still 9.3% below 2019 levels of airline traffic.
Most congested periods on the road for Fourth of July travel:
- Thursday June 30, 2-8 p.m.
- Friday July 1, Noon-9 p.m.
Worst highway corridor and time for Fourth of July travel in metro Atlanta:
Source: Traffic analytics company INRIX