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AAA News Release: 12/16/2011


More Than Two Million Washingtonians Will Have The Merriest Of Christmases As Holiday Travel Forecast Hits Highest Level In Ten Years

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Friday, December 16, 2011) – Christmas wishes will come true for 2.2 million Washingtonians and they will be wishing: “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you” in person to their loved ones, friends and the folks back home. To do so, more than 2,287,400 Washington area residents are set to become long-distance travelers and take to planes, trains and automobiles for trips of 50 miles or more during the perennially busy Christmas/New Year’s holiday travel season. That’s according to travel projections from AAA Mid-Atlantic.


Putting that into perspective, the Washington metro area boasts a populace of 5.6 million people. Amazingly, nearly 40 percent (39.2 percent) will take a trip or two at some point during the 12 days of Christmas traveling. In contrast, 30 percent of the total population of the United States is expected to travel during the upcoming holiday season, comprising the second highest travel volume nationally in the past ten years, AAA is forecasting.  Possessing a greater propensity to travel, Washington area residents will outpace that. Here’s why. Only 13 percent of the adult residents of Washington, D.C. were born in the District, comprising the lowest such share in the nation, according to the Pew Research Center.*


                “With the luxury of vacation time, more disposable income than their counterparts across the nation, and an intense yearning to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with family and friends, Washingtonians will be traveling during the Christmas and New Year holidays in the highest travel volume in a decade,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “That means every square inch on the highways and every ramp and exit on the roadways will be jammed, the three area airports will be crowded, nearly every available seat on airplanes will be filled to capacity, and virtually every coach seat in every coach car on the rails will be occupied by holiday travelers.”  


AAA Mid-Atlantic’s 2011 Year-End Travel Projections for the Washington SMSA At-A-Glance

Total Travel & Percentage Increase

Automobile Travel & Percentage Increase

Air Travel & Percentage Increase

Other Modes Of

Travel &  Percentage Increase


Up 1.5% from 2,254,600 in 2010

2,075,000 (91% of travelers)

Up 2.1%  from 2,033,093  in 2010

124,700 (5% of travelers)

Down 10.6 %  from 139,500 in 2010

87,700 (4% of travelers)

Up 6.9% from 82,000 in 2010


           This year’s area travel numbers represent a 1.5 percent increase over the 2,254,600 persons who traveled during the same time period in 2010. As expected, automobile travel is still “king of all it surveys” when it comes to the various modes of transportation. As proof, 2,075,000 Washingtonians will drive to their holiday destinations this year. This number is 2.1 percent higher than the 2,033,093 motorists who traveled the highways and byways during the holiday season at the end of 2010.   


           “That’s understandable, given the area’s ‘mobility pattern’ and the  fact that an estimated  87% of the adults in D.C.* moved to the District from another state; 52 percent of the residents of Maryland, 18 and older, were born in other states; and nearly half of adults in Virginia (49.4 percent) were born in a different state,” explained Townsend. “Reconnecting with family and friends in their hometowns, four out of ten Washington area residents will travel during the holiday vacation season.”


The cost of gas is the lump of coal in their Christmas stockings, and although pump prices have declined of recent, area consumers will still end up paying  the highest ever price for gas at Christmas in history, observes AAA Mid-Atlantic. The price of unleaded gas in the metro area has averaged just below $3.30 a gallon in the last week. It cost $3.03 a gallon just before Christmas 2010, and $2.61 per gallon just two Christmases ago in 2009. That’s a 70 cent swing since then, yet more people are driving this year.


Teeming with passengers, expect crowded airports, busy bus stations, and jammed train depots, and plan accordingly, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. With an eye on the flight boards, some 124,700 leisure travelers will be departing the Washington metropolitan area from the area’s three major airports, commented Townsend. That’s down 10.6 percent from the 139,500 people who headed for the departure gate in 2010. Airfares are up 21% over last Christmas, with an average lowest round-trip ticket rate of $210 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. Capacity cuts and jet fuel costs continue to have an impact on air travel.


Other modes of travel (bus, train, watercraft, and multi-modal travel) will make up the remaining number of total person-trips (87,700 travelers).  AAA research indicates that, due to the economy, some Washingtonians who may otherwise travel by automobile or air are now traveling by these alternative modes of transportation.


To be sure, nearly 60 percent of intended long-distance travelers say the state of the nation’s economy has little to no impact on their Christmas/New Year’s holiday travel plans. Some even believe that things have improved for them financially, AAA’s Leisure Travel Index shows. Meanwhile, the remaining 40 percent of travelers plan to cut back on their spending in order to compensate for whatever economic concerns they may have.


Nationally, AAA is forecasting 91.9 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home, a 1.4 percent increase over the 90.7 million people who traveled last year. Of that number, approximately 83.6 million people, or 91 percent, plan to travel to their destination by automobile. This represents a 2.1 percent increase over the 81.9 million travelers who drove in 2010.  Six percent of holiday travelers, almost 5.4 million people, will take to the skies during the Christmas/New Year’s period. That number represents a 9.7 percent decrease from 2010.   The number of people traveling by other modes of transportation including bus, train and watercraft has risen by more than 4 percent to 2.9 million people.


*That figure is for adult residents of D.C., Maryland and Virginia, who were born in the United States, explains the Pew Research Center. 


                AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Boston-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2011-12 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast can be found at


AAA Mid-Atlantic advocates on behalf of its nearly four million members in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. It provides a wide range of personal insurance, travel, financial and automotive services through its 50-plus retail branches, regional operations centers, and the Internet.  For more information, please visit our web site at   



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Contact: John B. Townsend II
Phone: (202) 481-6820

Contact: Lon Anderson
Phone: (202) 481-6820