Despite higher gas prices, more drivers than fliers this Thanksgiving
Published 1:05 am, Thursday, November 26, 2009
Russell Goldstein will have his two young sons over to his Stamford home on Thanksgiving, but he will probably skip a long-desired day trip as too extravagant.
With gas prices hovering around $3 per gallon, Goldstein, 58, said he feels he can't afford to travel.
"I'm trying to keep my overhead as low as possible and find more income," Goldstein said. "I don't think the economy is in good shape yet."
Despite substantially higher gas prices than last fall, more Americans are expected to travel Thanksgiving weekend, according to AAA spokeswoman Fran Mayk. This is the first time in five years long-distance travel has grown.
A survery by AAA predicted 38.4 million people will travel more than 50 miles by car, plane or bus over the weekend, a slight increase over the 37.8 million who traveled last year, Mayko said.
About 33.2 million people are expected to travel more than 50 miles by car, compared with 32.5 million last year, a 2 percent increase, according to the survey. Fewer are expected to travel by air, with the number of passengers expected to shrink from 2.5 million to 2.3 million, an 8 percent drop, according to Mayko.
Despite the higher gas prices, indications of a brighter economic picture and a desire to celebrate after a yearlong bout of concerns about employment have Americans ready to travel, Mayko said.The survey conducted by IHS Global Insight, an economic analysis and forecasting firm, included 1,350 households.
"Overall travel is up. We've gone through this economic downturn over the last year, and a lot of the industry experts are saying a lot of this is behind us now," Mayko said. "Though many of us are still unemployed and feeling the pinch financially, I think Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah is just the time for Americans to get together. It's just a testament that in the psyche of Americans that on Thanksgiving, you get together with family and friends."
The average price of gas in the Bridgeport area Monday was $2.88, compared with $2.28 at the same time last year.
Phyllis Shapiro and her husband plan to have a quiet Thanksgiving weekend at their Stamford home, which she said frees her from the pressure of preparing anything special.
"It's not because of gas prices, but I'm glad to be staying home," Shapiro said. "Nobody is coming to my house. I could eat cornflakes if I want."
Shapiro said that as gas prices have crept up since the stock market bottomed out last winter, she is rankled to find disparities in price among gas stations in different neighborhoods in Stamford. Shapiro said she hopes the state will ban zone pricing, the practice in which oil companies charge higher wholesale costs to stations in some locations, which results in significantly higher gas prices in Fairfield County.
"It's ridiculous to see the differences in prices around town," Shapiro said. "You pay 20 cents more a gallon on High Ridge Road. Nobody should have to drive around to hunt down dramatically cheaper gas."
Mayko said more people are turned off from flying because of higher air fares, expected delays, heightened security and other increased costs, such as baggage and other fees airlines are leaning on to pad profits.
"Driving now seems more convenient than flying," Mayko said.
Metro-North Railroad is expecting an increase in ridership over the weekend, including 110,000 customers on Thanksgiving Day, traveling to see family or to view the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, spokesman Dan Brucker said.
At Grand Central Terminal on Thanksgiving Day, conductors will collect tickets from passengers before they board outbound trains, a measure to help ensure customers board the correct train and eliminate time-consuming onboard ticket sales during the busy day, Brucker said.
"The conductors have a lot of work to do on Thanksgiving," Brucker said. "These trains are very full. Many people are traveling for the first time, and we're going to make sure they are on the right train and the right platform."
On the night before Thanksgiving, the railroad will run a combined 17 additional trains from 1 to 4 p.m. for those going home to visit family. It will consolidate some trains from 5 to 8 p.m. during the normal evening rush hour, which usually sees fewer passengers that day, Brucker said.
"Wednesday is the heaviest travel day," Brucker said. "Thanksgiving eve, Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday are complex days for us with often diametrically opposed needs for customers."
Brucker recommends that Thanksgiving travelers buy their round-trip tickets before they leave their home station, and at Grand Central Terminal, determine a meeting place to reunite with relatives if they become separated at the Macy's Parade.
Brucker said the stationmaster's office near Track 34 is a good place for passengers to wait, with benches and public telephones.
"Not everyone on planet Earth has a cell phone, so decide on a good place in the terminal," Brucker said. "The stationmaster can assist you with whatever problems you have."
On Friday, the railroad will run trains on a Saturday schedule, with additional service and train cars to accommodate shoppers and tourists visiting New York City, Brucker said.
From Nov. 21 through Jan. 2, the railroad will run more and expanded trains to carry holiday shoppers to New York City, Brucker said.