Holiday travelers to crowd airports, highways in Ohio

Travelers at the Dayton International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016.

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Travelers at the Dayton International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016.

As the holidays near, more Ohioans will travel by car and plane this weekend than any other time of the year.

About 4 million Ohioans — and more than 103 million Americans — will travel more than 50 miles from their home for the holidays. About nine in 10 people will drive to their destination, the highest total volume since AAA began tracking holiday travel data in 2001.

“The idea of the iconic road trip is still very appealing,” said Cindy Antrican, AAA public affairs manager. “If you think about it, if you’re on a road trip that is also time you get to spend with your family.”

Traffic volumes in Ohio typically increase an average of 37 percent for the Christmas holiday and 33 percent for New Year’s Day, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. The last time the holiday fell on a Sunday – 2011 – the busiest travel days were the Thursday before Christmas and the Monday after Christmas.

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But the drive could cost travelers a little bit more this year, as gas prices continue to rise. The average price for a gallon of regular gas in Ohio is $2.29. The average price on Tuesday was six cents more than one week ago, 19 cents more compared to one month ago, and 47 cents more than the same date last year.

Kim Thompson, a resident of Lewisburg, said her family will be coming to her this year. Her niece will drive from Minnesota for the holidays.

“It makes it a lot easier to travel (for) two dollars compared to four dollars,” she said. “I mean it’s nice.”

According to GasBuddy.com, Ohio currently has the 17th highest gas prices out of all other states in the U.S. Prices are rising due to market expectations of tighter availability, following the announcement of an OPEC deal to cut oil production. That cut in production is scheduled to start in January 2017, according to a news release.

Ohio travelers get on on the road

Thanksgiving weekend also saw record amount of travelers for the long weekend. An estimated 2 million Ohioans traveled, and more than 48.7 million Americans ventured out.

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Though some Ohioans will travel out of state this weekend, tourism is bringing out-of-state visitors back into the region. Scott Hutchinson, the communications manager for the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said nearly 11 million visitors come to the county each year for entertainment destinations.

“Warren County absolutely sees an influx in out-of-town visitation during the holiday season,” he said. “Thanks to our central location, easy accessibility, and wide array of attractions and events that appeal to both families and grown-ups, we’ve carved out a niche as both a fun and convenient holiday destination.”

Some of the popular attractions include a snow-tubing hill on the grounds of the Beach Waterpark in Mason, the Lebanon Horse Drawn Carriage Parade, Great Wolf Lodge, and the Christmas Ranch in Morrow.

“While staycations are popular this time of year, our goal … is to attract out-of-town visitors year-round, and we’ve been very successful in doing so,” Hutchinson said.

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Tourist areas — like Mad River Mountain ski and snowboard resort in Zanesfield and the Carillon Historical Park in Dayton — also draw in more out-of-town guests in the region.

Advice for travelers

Air travel will increase this holiday weekend too, according to AAA. More than 223,000 Ohio residents expect to fly to their holiday destinations this year. That’s about a half of percent increase from last year.

Jay Ratliff, an aviation expert from the region, said an influx of airport foot traffic means passengers should arrive a minimum of two hours before their departure.

“Lines are going to be longer,” he said. “People are flying who haven’t flown in a while, so they will bring things they can’t take on a plane. That slows things down.”

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Ratliff encouraged flyers to check their seat assignment before they arrive to the airport to ensure they actually have a spot on the plane. He said no major weather events are expected to slam any areas of the U.S. currently, so airlines should be equipped to handle the weekend.

ODOT has also reminded drivers to prepare for inclement weather and road conditions, while expecting more drivers on the road during the holiday season. The department said there’s already been 1,094 traffic deaths in Ohio this year.

AAA expects to rescue more than 980,000 motorists over the 11-day holiday travel period — mostly due to dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. The service encouraged drivers to pack an emergency kit and to check windshield wipers and tires before heading out on a holiday trip.


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By the numbers

103.1 million: Travelers who will journey at least 50 miles from home during holiday season, Dec. 23-Jan. 2

$204: Average roundtrip airfare

90.7 percent: People who will drive

5.9 percent: People who will fly

3.4 percent: People who will use other modes of transportation

$2.29: Average gas price

SOURCE: AAA Travel Forecast

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