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Holiday Travel for December 2018: It's Going to Get Busy

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Posted: Dec 19, 2018 6:42 AM
Updated: Dec 19, 2018 12:15 PM


A record-breaking 112.5 million Americans will travel during the December holiday season, a 4.4% increase over last year, according to AAA predictions.

That's more than one-third of all Americans who will be traveling, and it's the highest number since AAA has been tracking holiday travel.

For the more than 102 million people who are driving, global mobility analytics company INRIX estimates that travel times in the busiest US cities could be as much as four times longer than normal. Those cities include New York City, Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago.

" 'Tis the season for holiday travel, and more Americans than ever will journey to spend time with friends and family or choose to take a vacation," said Bryan Shilling, managing director of AAA Travel products and services, in a statement.

"With a record-breaking one-third of the country choosing to travel this holiday, roadways and airports are sure to be busy."

AAA says the holiday travel period starts Saturday, December 22, 2018, and ends Tuesday, January 1, 2019.

A busy flying season

Nearly 46 million passengers will travel on US airlines during the airlines' holiday period, a 5.2% increase over 2017, according to Airlines for America, the US airline trade group.

The airlines have an expanded definition of that travel time: the 18 days from Thursday, December 20, through Sunday, January 6.

"With airfares at historic lows, travelers are choosing to fly on US airlines in record numbers, especially during the busy holiday season," A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich said in a statement.

The airlines expect daily passenger volume to range from 2.1 to 2.9 million, with Friday, December 21, Thursday, December 20, and Wednesday, December 26, predicted to be the busiest travel days. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are expected to be the lightest travel days.

Fly with pie (or cake)

Do you need to make your famous pie (or cake) rather than enjoy your father's cake or your mother-in-law's pie? OK, we won't argue about it. But we will advise you that some desserts travel better than others.

Don't just take our word for it: It's what the Food 52 people say.

A simple apple or pear cake is one of Food 52 co-founder Merrill Stubbs' favorite holiday desserts.

"Most versions freeze well, which means you can make them well in advance," says Stubbs, the company's president. "What's more, a frozen cake is a hardier traveler than a fresh one. Pack it snugly into a carry-on, and it'll be defrosted and ready to eat by the time you arrive."

Still craving pumpkin?

Food 52's Kristen Miglore votes for the the Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Crunch. "The pecan crunch top will have time to fully cool off and get firm and crackly like a crème brûlée, and may protect the pumpkin filling even more!" says Miglore, creative director of Food52's Genius brand.

Our holiday guide to flying

This guidance applies to any holiday travel, or really, any time you fly. (We copy it into every holiday travel guide.)

Check your flight status. Check your flight status and print out your boarding passes at home. It doesn't matter if it's sunny at home if your aircraft is coming from Chicago and they're having a snowstorm.

Load up on apps. Most airlines, many airports and the TSA all have apps you can use to check on flying conditions, aircraft status and even food for sale. Some airlines let you rebook on their apps.

Pack snacks. The lines at your favorite airport eatery are going to be long, so have some snacks ready to eat, especially if you're facing a super-long TSA line.

Prepare your kids. That could mean bringing enough diapers, snacks and wipes or having enough shows loaded up on electronic devices to keep them busy. Just don't let them bug other people while traveling.

Pack your jellies. Eggnog, maple syrup, preserves and jellies need to go into checked bags. (With a checked bag, you can pack ALL of your crazy sweaters.)

Have a disability? Call TSA. Travelers with disabilities or medical conditions and their families can call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours before flying to ask questions about screening policies and get assistance at checkpoints.

What else do you need? Noise-canceling headphones, a sleep pillow and a charged battery for your gadgets -- bring them all.

Get to the airport early. If you clear the lines to check your bags and clear security early, there's more time to read or play with electronics, do yoga or talk to your traveling companions.

Stay chill. No amount of yelling at gate agents or flight attendants gets you from Point A to Point B any faster. In fact, being kind to airport and airline employees creates good will and might get you a better seat. (It sure helps with karma.)

Most people are driving

Some 46% of all crashes involving bad weather take place in the winter, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. That's reason enough to prepare for winter driving.

AAA recommends drivers carry an emergency roadside kit "containing a mobile phone and car charger, first-aid kit, blankets, drinking water and snacks, a flashlight with extra batteries, a basic toolkit, warning flares, an ice scraper, jumper cables and a shovel."

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