Memorial Day travel growth to be slow after 2010 rebound
Marie Casimir, a retirement home nurse from Glenbrook, said the price of keeping her Toyota Avalon's tank full has risen from $50 to $100 a week, making it difficult to envision much travel over the Memorial Day weekend or during the summer.
"My salary is still the same and the price of everything goes up, up, up," the 35-year-old said. "It's not easy."
While not traveling this Memorial Day weekend, Frank Bauletta, 65, of North Stamford, said he hopes to visit his brother's family in Massachusetts several times over the summer.
While $50 fill-ups have taken a bite out of his finances, he said it has not been so costly that it would make him forego some travel this summer.
"After a certain point, you can't keep something from letting you live your life," Bauletta said.
Despite dramatically higher gas prices and increased airfare and hotel costs compared to last year, the American Automobile Association's annual Memorial Day survey predicts the number of people driving or flying 50 or more miles from home will grow a small amount because of a small jump in air travel.
This week, an average gallon of regular gasoline cost $4.29 in the
Bridgeport-Stamford area, about $1.20 higher than the same time last year, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.
Nearly 88 percent of the 34.9 million Americans expected to travel between Thursday and Monday will drive, and the total number of travelers grew two tenths of a percent higher from last year's total of 34.8 million.
In 2010, overall travel rose about 14 percent, a large upward leap in wanderlust that AAA attributed to some feelings of increased economic stability after the recession in 2008.
"I think the number of people traveling in spite of gas prices indicates that people are just deciding that they need to get away," AAA spokeswoman Fran Mayko said.
Despite airfare increases, air travel is expected to rise by about 300,000 passengers, to 2.93 million, about 8 percent of the total, according to the survey.
Ed Martelle, a spokesman for American Airlines, said while airlines have been reducing capacity and cutting flights due to jet fuel costs, remaining flights have been more full.
This month, American Airlines flights have been 80 to 90 percent full, Martelle said, raising hopes for increased business.
"That's good to have and certainly better than what we've seen for several months," Martelle said. "Some of that has to do with the fact that it is a three-day holiday weekend and the unofficial kickoff of summer and partly a reaction to higher fuel prices for cars."
Peter Scherrer, airport manager for Westchester County Airport, and John Wallace, communications director for Bradley International Airport said the arrival of JetBlue Airways flights at both facilities in the past year has increased passenger volume with more affordable flights.
"This weekend, the flights are fairly full and some of the flights are oversold," Scherrer said. "The one good thing about the weekend is that the weather is supposed to be fairly good."
Wallace said overall passenger volume at Bradley has grown year over year for the past 10 months, including a 12 percent surge in March, and a 6 percent jump in April.
"We've gotten off to a really good start," Wallace said.
The survey also found that travelers staying at AAA two-diamond rated hotels were expected to pay 5 percent more than the $109-a-night per room average cost.
The survey also found that respondents who were comfortable with fuel prices planned to increase the average distance of their trip from 626 to 792 miles.
Metro-North Railroad is estimating about 31,000 passengers will ride its special schedule of getaway trains out of Grand Central Terminal Friday afternoon, slightly more than previous years and in keeping with a resurgence in ridership in 2010 and 2011, Daniel O'Connell, director operations planning and analysis for the railroad.
Memorial Day travel on getaway trains dropped about 5 percent from 2008 to 2009, and 1 percent from 2009 to 2010, O'Connell said.
"I think this year we might see a bump up and I say that because we're seeing overall ridership for Metro-North being positive in recent months," O'Connell said.
On the New Haven Line, eight additional getaway trains will depart Grand Central from 12 to 4 p.m., O'Connell said.
State Police will be increasing patrols over the four-day period between Thursday afternoon and Monday night, Lt. J. Paul Vance said, seeking out offenses like speeding and driving under the influence as well as seat belt and cellphone infractions.
"We're going to be out on the roads and we're asking people to obey the state's traffic laws voluntarily," Vance said.
Jim Bak, community relations director for Seattle-based INRIX, which specializes in providing real-time traffic information, said based on a variety of factors, including expected volume and ongoing construction, the heaviest traffic will occur after 3 p.m. Friday.
The company released INRIX Traffic 3.0, an iPhone application allowing drivers to compare traffic on potential routes, Bak said.
"If you are going to leave Friday, leave early enough to get out of the city by Friday afternoon, when people will be trying to beat the afternoon rush hour," Bak said.
Staff Writer Martin B. Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com at 203-964-2264.