By Kelly Yamanouchi, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Troy Warren for CNT
Nearly 1.5 million Georgians are expected to give in to wanderlust over the Independence Day holiday, which would make it the second most traveled July 4th on record and comes just months after the number of COVID-19 cases in the state hit a peak with thousands crammed into the state’s hospitals.
This year’s AAA projection marks a rebound of 33% from traffic last year when the coronavirus kept many of the state’s residents at home, though not as many as elsewhere in America. It’s a mere 1.5% shy of the record number of Georgians who traveled in 2019.
Nationally, more than 47.7 million Americans are expected to travel from July 1-5, according to projections released Tuesday by the auto club, a 40% bounce-back from 2020 levels. The number of road trips, in particular, is expected to hit a record for the holiday.
“Travel is back this summer,” Debbie Haas, AAA’s vice president of travel, said in a written statement.
It’s a remarkable turnaround from earlier in the year when, on Jan. 11, the number of coronavirus infections peaked, with a seven-day rolling average of 9,700 new cases reported in Georgia. With vaccinations, the rolling average has fallen about 95% since then.
People are taking vacations they’ve deferred for the last year and a half, and “all indications now point to a busy Independence Day,” Haas said.
President Joe Biden has urged Americans to get vaccinated, saying he wanted to “begin to mark our independence from this virus” by the Fourth of July. The travel booking app Hopper said it saw a surge in travel searches for the summer following the president’s primetime address, including a 56% spike in searches for the July 4th weekend.
The vast majority of travel for the holiday will be by car — more than 90% of trips nationally and locally. Some of those people opting for road trips instead of flying are trying to avoid crowded planes and airports as coronavirus variants continue to spread.
“Road trips provide a sense of freedom and more control over the duration of your trip,” AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend said in a written statement.
But that freedom will be tempered with the hassles of highway congestion. The worst traffic delays are forecast for the Thursday and Friday afternoons before the holiday weekend, along with mid-day July 5, according to AAA.
More than 99,000 people in Georgia are expected to take flights over the July holiday period, up from fewer than 40,000 last year and reaching about 89% of 2019 levels. About 3.5 million people nationally are expected to travel by air, up from 1.3 million in 2020 and nearing 90% of 2019 levels.
Airports are expected to be busy, with more than 2 million passengers passing through airport security checkpoints nationwide on peak days.
July 2 should be the busiest departure day, while July 5 will be the busiest day for return flights, according to Hopper.
With airline travel off due to declines in business trips and international travel restrictions, average air fares are still down 2% from last year and down about 7% from 2019 fares, according to AAA.
Hopper estimates domestic airfare for the holiday weekend will average $302 round trip, and prices will spike the week leading up to the holiday.
High prices for gas, hotels and car rentals also could take a bite out of travelers’ budgets. Gas prices are at their highest levels since 2014, AAA reports. Mid-range hotel rates are up 32-35%. Car rental rates have skyrocketed amid a shortage of vehicles. Car rental rates are up 86% year-over-year, rising to a national average of $166 a day. In Atlanta, the average car rental rate has soared to $173 a day.
The top two Fourth of July destinations for travelers, based on AAA Travel bookings, are Disney theme park cities: Orlando and Anaheim. The most popular road trips include Nashville to Atlanta.
Atlanta’s usual Centennial Olympic Park Fourth of July fireworks celebration is canceled this year, but other big events are still planned for the holiday weekend, including the AJC Peachtree Road Race and Stone Mountain’s fireworks celebration.
While millions will take road trips and flights, the use of other forms of travel — buses, trains and ships — remains 82% below 2019 levels for the holiday. A limited number of cruises are starting up again this month after cruise lines were hit hard by the pandemic.
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