Air travel expected to be up, road travel down for holiday season

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CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Gerald R. Ford International Airport near Grand Rapids is expecting to see crowds of people as the holiday travel season ramps up in the next few weeks.

“We’ve been looking forward to this recovery at our airport and across the nation,” Ford Airport Chief Operating Officer Alex Peric said.

In 2019, the airport reported record travel. Then in 2020, the pandemic caused air travel to tank. As the 2020 holiday season approached, passenger numbers started to increase. Now, the airport says it is now making its way back to pre-pandemic figures.

“We’re going to expect to see crowds for the holiday travel season. We’re expecting around 80% to 85% travel loads versus 2019,” Peric said.

At the same time, fewer people are expected to travel by road this holiday season.

“When we asked motorists this year for their Thanksgiving travel plans, only 32% of Americans said they’re hitting the road for more than an hour. That compares to 35% a year ago,” GasBuddy petroleum analyst Patrick De Haan said. “Kind of mind-blowing in the midst of COVID last year, more people planned to hit the road. Compared to a normal year — 2019 was the last normal year — nearly two-thirds of Americans said they were hitting the road.”

De Haan says he believes gas prices are the reason for the decline in road travel this year.

“We’re just a few cents away from seeing the most expensive Thanksgiving that we’ve ever seen and that Thanksgiving was 2012,” De Haan said.

De Haan says if you are traveling for the holiday, you could see some affects from the worker shortage as some stations in rural areas are closing up earlier than usual.

“If you are driving further distances, stay to the larger brands of station,” he said. “They generally have been doing a better job with hours. Travel stops generally are open 24 hours. You can’t eliminate the fact that there may be a station or two that is not open that normally would.”

Airport staff say if you plan to hit the skies, be early and be prepared.

“We’re hoping people come at least two hours prior to their scheduled departure and please pack your patience,” Peric said.

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