Travelers are seen in a queue at Newark-Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., on November 24 ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. AAA expects 85 million Americans to travel between Wednesday and January 3. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 23 (UPI) -- The traditional busy holiday travel season began in earnest on Wednesday, with millions of Americans expected to hit the road against the advice of top health officials to stay home and curb the spread of COVID-19.
Wednesday is expected to be one the busiest travel days of the holiday season, both on the road and in the skies.
AAA says nearly 85 million Americans are likely to travel between Wednesday and Jan. 3 -- about 81 million by car and 3 million by airplane. Another half-million are expected to travel by other modes like bus and train.
The auto group says Wednesday, Jan. 3 and Sunday, two days after Christmas, are expected to be the heaviest travel days.
Top health officials for weeks have advised against traveling and large gatherings during the holidays, as those activities are conducive to spreading the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Evidence so far, however, indicates that many Americans are ignoring that advice, much as they did during the Thanksgiving holiday.
"Postpone holiday travel and stay home to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rise across the United States," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged in a tweet on Sunday.
Official statistics show that travel has peaked in recent days.
The Transportation Security Administration said this week that more than 4 million people passed through screening checkpoints at airports nationwide between last Friday and Monday -- the most for a four-day span since travel restrictions were ordered in March.
Still, compared to previous years, experts predict holiday travel this year to be be well below average.
AAA predicts at least 34 million fewer travelers this year compared to the same period in 2019, a decline of about 30%. In Michigan alone, it said, about 2.6 million people are expected to travel, also a decline of 30% from last year.
"While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans often venture out for longer, more elaborate vacations. That will not be the case this year," AAA spokeswoman Adrienne Woodland said in a statement.
"Public health concerns, official guidance not to travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment have encouraged the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays."
AAA noted that the rise in coronavirus cases will likely lead some Americans to cancel travel plans at the last minute, which also occurred before Thanksgiving.
"For those who make the personal decision to travel, it is important to understand the risks involved and take steps to keep yourself and others safe," the auto club group said.
"Seek the advice of a trusted travel advisor and refer to AAA's COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com for the latest state and local travel restrictions, and to help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are open along your route."
Meanwhile, gas prices have increased a bit so far this month, which is typical for anticipated travel periods.
AAA says the national average has risen to $2.24 per gallon. States with the least-expensive gas are Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma. States that have the most-expensive gas are Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada.
The national average is the highest since mid-September.
Parishioners sit in folding chairs with candles, listening to prayers outside of the St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ladue, Mo., on December 24. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo