Widespread availability of vaccines and relaxed safety guidelines have made travel a big part of the Thanksgiving holiday again this year.

After the pandemic put the holiday in quarantine in 2020, AAA predicts nearly 1.5 million North Carolinians will travel this year. This is a 13 percent rebound from the total number of travelers during the 2020 holiday.

“It’s beginning to look more like a normal holiday travel season, compared to what we saw last year,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA auto club. “Now that U.S. borders are open, vaccinations are readily available and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holidays.”

The Pitt-Greenville Airport expects approximately 600 passengers per day, both arriving and departing, over the Thanksgiving holiday period, which kicks into high gear Wednesday, traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year.

According to Bill Hopper, executive director at the airport, there is no expected increase in numbers compared to daily averages. “We just expect to see good numbers like what we have been getting,” he said. The airport was closed last Thanksgiving.

Hopper explained that numbers have been steadily increasing since last winter when places started opening back up. “There’s a lot of pent up demand, and that pent up demand hasn’t diminished at all. It’s maintained. So, we’re very happy with the passenger numbers that we’ve been seeing.”

Statewide, more than 102,000 people are expected to fly, compared to just under 57,000 last year. Nationally, numbers are expected to increase from 2.3 million to 4.2 million, according to AAA, nearly reaching the 2019 level of 4.6 million.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport expects more than 234,000 passengers from Monday through Sunday of Thanksgiving week, a 129 percent increase over the same week in 2020. The airport reported it expects Sunday to be the busiest day of the week, with 44,000 people traveling in a single day.

About 1.5 million automobile travelers are expected to hit the roads in North Carolina, up from 1.3 million last year. Nationally the numbers are expected to increase from 44.5 million to 48.3 million. A large enforcement effort for safe travels by the State Highway Patrol will center around the Click It or Ticket campaign.

“Fatal collisions across North Carolina relating to unbelted drivers is up 6 percent … from last year. We’re hoping through that Click It or Ticket and the enforcement and awareness that come out of that campaign can help to curb that trend that we’re seeing with fatal crashes,” said 1st Sgt. Christopher Knox.

Peak travel days will be the Wednesday before and the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Knox stated the Highway Patrol will have increased manpower on these days with the hope of preventing collisions from occurring and being able to prevent secondary events in the event of an initial collision happening.

Gas prices surged in October and are likely to remain elevated through the holiday season, according to AAA. The average price for gasoline in North Carolina was $3.20 per gallon on Monday while the national average was $3.40 per gallon. This is the highest Thanksgiving gas price since 2013. According to AAA, the state average was $1.94 per gallon during last year’s holiday and $2.41 on Thanksgiving Day in 2019.

“After such an unusual holiday travel year in 2020, it appears that higher gas prices will not be enough to deter Carolinians from returning to the road for the holidays,” said Tiffany Wright, spokesperson for AAA Carolinas. “Unfortunately, it appears these high gas prices will hang around through the holidays. So it’s likely that travelers will budget more for gasoline and less on things like shopping, lodging and dining out.”