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Pandemic causes travel organization AAA to urge members to reconsider Thanksgiving travel plans

An organization that’s been in the travel promotion business for 100-plus years is advising people to reconsider their holiday plans, have just small gatherings and perhaps stick closer to home this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nationwide, AAA expects about 50 million people to travel this Thanksgiving season. In Colorado, the organization anticipates there will be about 897,000 travelers. Those numbers could be even lower as people monitor the surge in COVID-19 cases and the restrictions being reimposed to slow the spread, AAA said.

Gov. Jared Polis and other officials are urging people to work from home. Neighboring New Mexico has imposed a two-week shutdown of a broad spectrum of businesses as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned the health care system is at a “breaking point,” the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Skyler McKinley, spokesman for AAA Colorado, said the organization is taking its cue from the experts this holiday season.

“As a membership organization, we have a responsibility to keep our members safe,” McKinley said. “If you talk to two sets of people, the experts in infectious diseases and the folks on the ground — at county health departments, in state government — those two groups of experts are saying now is not the time to travel.”

Economic troubles caused by the loss of jobs and business are also behind the AAA’s forecast of the lowest Thanksgiving travel volume in four years and the largest yearly decline since the Great Recession.

Car trips are expected to drop nationwide by about 5% this Thanksgiving, but increase in the West roughly 2% from Thanksgiving 2019. McKinley said.

One bit of good news is that those venturing out on the roads will pay less for gas. The national average price is expected  to be $2.11 per gallon, the lowest seasonal price since 2015. Colorado, motorists can expect to pay an average of $2.18 per gallon, down from $2.79 at this time last year.

AAA says air travel will likely drop by 47% nationally and nearly 45% statewide, with only 34,000 Coloradans traveling by airplane.

A survey by AA found that 73% of Coloradans are comfortable traveling in their own vehicle, compared to 28% percent who are comfortable taking a commercial flight.

Denver International Airport is anticipating a 36% decline in traffic from the 2019 Thanksgiving season, spokeswoman Emily Williams said in an email. The Sunday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving are projected to be the busiest days, with about 50,000 people expected Nov. 29, which would be the airport’s busiest day since mid-March, she said.

“The airlines are taking every precaution that they can to protect travelers,” McKinley said. “The bottom line that we hear from the White House coronavirus task force and from governors is that if you’re going to gather, no matter how you get there, really limit the number of folks you’re going to see.”

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