Thanksgiving travel expected to near pre-pandemic levels in South Carolina, AAA and CAE officials say

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 9:26 PM EST
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WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With Thanksgiving around the corner, hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians will be taking to the sky or hitting the road to visit family for the holiday, and officials expect both air and car travel to near pre-pandemic levels.

According to projections from the American Automobile Association (AAA), nearly 753,000 South Carolinians will be traveling for this week’s holiday, either by plane, car or train.

If this travel figure holds, it would be just two percent below pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

Kim Crafton, Director of Marketing and Air Service Development at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE), said this tracks with air travel projections in the Midlands. She said last year’s drop in holiday travelers was the exception, and anticipates demand will rise again this year.

“I think if people haven’t traveled in awhile with COVID or just being not sure or comfortable traveling and they’re getting back to traveling, please know that there will be an increase of people through the airport,” she said. “They need to come early, two hours is what we are recommending for people to get to the airport as well just pack your patience.”

Total passenger traffic at CAE through the end of October was more than 702,000. For context, around 1,008,000 passengers traveled through this airport through the end of September in 2019.

Nationwide, AAA projects more than 53 million Americans will travel this week, up 13 percent from last year and within 5 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

Of the statewide Thanksgiving-week travelers, AAA anticipates more than 53,000 will fly.

Darien Chase flew to CAE from Maryland to see his brother’s Army graduation from Fort Jackson. The Chase family will be together for the first time in nearly six months.

“It brings a lot of joy,” Chase said. “I haven’t seen him in awhile. And especially on a holiday like Thanksgiving, you get to really sit down and say what you’re thankful for. And I’m really thankful for my brother.”

According to AAA, around 678,000 South Carolinians will travel for Thanksgiving by car.

According to Gasbuddy, which tracks gas prices daily, Columbia gas prices are averaging $3.02 per gallon on Monday, November 22. This is 2.5 cents lower than a week ago, and 6.9 cents lower than a month ago.

Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, said this recent drop in prices can be attributed to a recent drop in oil prices from their $85 per barrel peak.

“While there’s reason to be optimistic that the peak of gas prices will soon be behind us, the decline in the price of oil is likely reflecting the possibility of a coordinated global release of oil from strategic reserves,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, oil could again rally. However, with Covid cases on the rise again reducing global demand, it does seem the most likely outcome will be a drop in gas prices that could last several weeks.”

However, AAA reports that gas prices statewide are still the highest they’ve been since 2013.

RELATED STORY | SC gas prices reach 7-year high, experts expect continued surge

Beth Padgett said the high gas prices are not deterring her from driving more than seven hours to Nashville to spend the holiday with two of her children.

“We spent Thanksgiving in Nashville two years ago, didn’t get to do it last year because of COVID so we’re ready to get back,” she said. “Since our children moved up there, it’s cost less than $100 in gas to make the trip, but that won’t be the case this year. I was adding it up in my head the other day and I’m thinking we’re going to spend over $150 on gas probably.”

If you’re hitting the road, AAA suggests checking to see if your vehicle needs service before your trip. They anticipate responding to more than 400,000 nationwide calls for help over the holiday weekend.

CAE officials are reminding travelers of the federal face mask requirement for airports, onboard commercial aircraft. This was recently extended by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) through January 18, 2022.

Crafton encourages those traveling through CAE to follow the airport’s social media pages, which provide “information to the travelers to ensure that their entire travel journey is as easy as possible.”

In a new offering this holiday season, CAE is giving local families the opportunity to take their children to meet Santa at the airport. This will be held on Sunday November 28 and Sunday December 5 from 12 p.m. until 3 p.m.

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