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AAA: Sandy won't dampen Thanksgiving travel plans

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Photo - Heavy traffic on Interstate 395 (Getty Images)
Heavy traffic on Interstate 395 (Getty Images)
Local,Transportation,Abby Hamblin

Fallout from Superstorm Sandy will not deter Thanksgiving travelers this year, according to AAA, with nearly 44 million Americans expected to crowd the roads and skies -- a slight increase over 2011.

"While people are still paying attention to what they are spending, when it comes to making choices, carving turkey with family and friends still trumps pinching pennies," AAA President Robert Darbelnet told The Washington Examiner on Tuesday.

Of the 43.6 million people expected to travel at least 50 miles roundtrip between Nov. 21 and Nov. 25, 90 percent of them will go by automobile. For those automobiles in the D.C. metro area, gas prices are currently down from an average of $3.74 per gallon in October to $3.45, and AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts they could drop another 7 to 8 cents per gallon by Thanksgiving.

"People ... still want to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, but they are going to slightly reduce the distance they will travel and favor the automobile over an airline ticket," Darbelnet said.

Darbelnet said gas distribution in the areas affected by Superstorm Sandy is almost back to normal, and that while damage to vehicles and previous difficulty accessing gas could affect the willingness of people in that region to travel, he could see the tragedy as a possible motivator for travel.

"I think we should anticipate that some of the families that are in those situations may view getting together with family and friends ... as even more important than it might otherwise be," Darbelnet said.

Locally, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said he thinks D.C.-area numbers will show similar increases in overall travel.

Although the average distance traveled will decline from 706 miles last year to 588 miles, AAA expects overall travel to continue to increase.

"Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008, when only 37.8 million Americans traveled," Darbelnet said in a statement. "Since that year, we have seen a steady increase in the number of travelers taking to the roads and skies for the holiday. Americans continue to find ways to economize their budgets so they can gather around the holiday table to carve the turkey."

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