Holiday travel trends show fewer people flying, more people driving

MADISON, Wis.– The American Automobile Association considers the day before Thanksgiving the busiest travel day of they year, but that may not be the case this year.

Director of Public Affairs at AAA, Nick Jarmusz, said travel is down all together, but specifically less people are flying.

“Folks who maybe normally would fly home are going to be driving instead, but then we’re also going to see some folks who might drive simply not make the trip all together,” Jarmusz said.

Dane County Regional Airport is feeling that loss. Director of Marketing and Communication Michael Riechers said terminal traffic is down by more than 70 percent in 2020.

“We’re expecting to see a little bit of a bump, but it’s down year to date quite a bit,” Riechers said.

Nearly 10,000 people flew out of the Madison airport in the three days leading up to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2019. This year, that number is about 4,000 people, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Revenue fell by about 15 percent as a result, but Federal Cares Act funding helped the financially self-sufficient airport break even this year, according to Riechers.

“I would say our low point was shortly after the pandemic,” Riechers said. “Since April it’s been a very, very slow recovery, but it has been upward trending.”

If people do decide to travel, whether flying or driving, AAA suggests doing research first.

“So that you do know what to expect in terms of masking requirements or whether restaurants will be open,” Jarmusz said. “Along the route and the destination you’re going to.”

Jarmusz reminds people to travel safe on the road. He said more people are dying in car crashes, despite fewer drivers on the road.

University of Wisconsin-Madison student Julia Endicott is flying to California for Thanksgiving. It’s her first time going home since the semester started.

“I just want to be home with my family,” Endicott said. “All my roommates are going home, as well, but they’re from Minnesota. They got to drive. I have to fly unfortunately.”

Flyers like Endicott are prepared to get to their destination without catching COVID-19 along the way.

“I brought my wipes, got my mask,” Endicott said. “Just be as safe as I can. (I’m) not too nervous.”


Sanitizer and mask stations are placed throughout the terminal at Dane County Regional Airport.