After a big increase in travel last year, AAA is predicting a drop this Memorial Day. Most of the drop is due to an 8% decline in air travel. The auto club predicted that 35.4 million Americans will travel to destinations that are more than 50 miles from their home, down from 35.1 million last year. That is a drop of almost 1%
AAA President Robert Darbelnet said in a release that the economy and the automatic sequester budget cuts earlier this year were factors in fewer people taking trips far away from home in 2013.
“AAA is forecasting Memorial Day travel to be slightly lower this year due to an to an up and down economy, the impact of the end of the payroll tax holiday on working families and a 30-year low in the percentage of working age people in the workforce,” Darbelnet said in a statement. “Additionally, economic growth in the first quarter was strong, but the impact of the sequester is now beginning to be felt resulting in reduced economic growth expectations. These and other variables are expected to result in few travelers this holiday. ”
Darbelnet said American travelers are experiencing airline “fee fatigue” and frustration with everything from higher fares to airport security. “As a result, many are choosing road travel in higher numbers due to the lower cost and convenience it offers,” he said.
AAA predicted the number of drivers over the Memorial Day weekend would increase 0.25 percent, going from 31.1 million last year to 31.2 million in 2013. Apparently higher gas prices will not affect travel plans.
The sequester is putting a damper on travel in a couple ways. First of all, federal workers, and some state and local employees are taking a hit in their pay checks because of mandatory furloughs imposed by the sequester Congress passed in 2011. Many federal offices including the IRS were closed Friday, for instance. Workers have the time, but not the money to travel.
In addition, many government contractors are seeing cut backs and that is causing lay offs as well.
The publicity over airport delays might have stopped people from making advance purchases of air tickets when prices lower feared travel would be a nightmare. Even though the delays are minimal now. It is too late for travelers to get discounted fares. Perhaps they will travel for July 4th instead.
How accurate are the AAA estimates? Slate magazine did a study and found that they “are usually within a couple million.” Last year, AAA predicted that 30.7 million Americans would drive to their Memorial Day destinations. The actual figure was 31.1 million.
AAA was also less than a million travelers off in 2011, but Slate said it has had a couple of bad years as well. The 2010 forecast missed by 3 million, an error of more than 10 percent. The 2008 forecast was off by 5.6 million travelers, or a whopping 18 percent.
It might be noted that 2008 was at the depth of the recession, and no one realized at the time how bad it was. In 2010, the summer was marked by Tea Party protests, and anxiety over the recovery, making it hard to predict travel.
The airline industry is still optimistic that it will see an overall increase in air travel this summer, but that is due to a predicted 1% increase international travel. The airline trade group A4A said that 2013 will likely see the largest volume since 2008.
Let’s just hope everyone who travels arrives safely. Cross you fingers before you cross any bridges.
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