Despite an improving economy and lower gasoline prices, the number of Americans expected to travel this holiday weekend is down slightly from last year and the amount they will spend is down considerably.
The annual forecast by AAA shows that 43.4 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles between Wednesday and Sunday, with the largest share — 37 percent — leaving Wednesday and about a third planning to wait until Sunday to return.
That’s down about 1.6 million travelers from 44 million people who made the trek to eat turkey 50 miles from home last year. And in New England, according to the forecast from AAA by IHS Global Insight, the decline in number of travelers is expected to be 2.5 million.
Spending is expected to average $465, a hefty decline of 6.5 percent from last year’s predicted rate. That’s especially odd since gas prices are down an average of 85 cents a gallon (down by 19 cents a gallon in Connecticut, to an average of $3.63 Monday).
Car travel is still the dominant mode, accounting for 90 percent, and air travel plans are down by 3.7 percent, the forecast said.
Anyone traveling on a bus could end up in one of the 42 new coaches outfitted with wifi and seat belts that were purchased in the last year by Springfield-based Peter Pan, that company announced Monday. Peter Pan said it will transport 1 million college students.
As for the rest of us, the forecast is unusual, showing an expected decline in travel amid lower gasoline prices and declining unemployment. It points to the weakness of the recovery, AAA said.
I’d add that it shows the recovery is still not broad-based, and that lower median incomes, higher health care expenses and flat confidence trump moderately rising job totals and declining energy prices. Come Wednesday if a storm rolls up the East Coast, we might find that weather trumps everything.