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Iowans hit the roads, take to the skies in Thanksgiving travel rush

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL)- The Thanksgiving travel rush is in full swing on the highways and the sky. Airports and roads are full as many people are traveling to gather with loved ones this Thanksgiving.

AAA predicts nearly 55 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home between Wednesday and Sunday.

"This is the third busiest Thanksgiving we've seen since we started recording in early 2000," Meredith Mitts, Public Affairs Specialist for AAA in Minnesota and Iowa, said.

4.5 million will take to the skies to fly to their Thanksgiving destinations, including 2.5 million on Wednesday alone.

"We ended up showing up maybe an extra hour earlier and got through security in about 10 minutes," Shaun Cagley said.

Cagley and his son Cooper flew into Cedar Rapids from Denver on Wednesday morning to visit family for the holiday and go to the Hawkeye game on Friday.

The number of Americans flying for Thanksgiving is roughly 99% of the pre-pandemic volume in 2019.

"People are more comfortable traveling in terms of protecting themselves and their family, with the vaccines and the progress that has been made throughout the pandemic," Mitts said. "It's very encouraging people can go see their friends go see their family, and feel safe doing so."

For some families, this Thanksgiving will be the first time they are fully together in a few years.

Amanda McLernon and her dog Pippa flew into Cedar Rapids on Wednesday to spend Thanksgiving with her Fiance and other family members. She has come to Iowa for the past few Thanksgiving but made the long, 10-hour drive from Colorado.

"It was important to us to keep our relationships with our families but also stay safe," McLernon said. "We just packed up the car and drove cross country."

In the last year, McLernon said she and her family have felt comfortable enough to start venturing back out and even traveled abroad.

She got to the airport extra early on Wednesday, about four hours before her flight, to ensure she got through security and on her plane without any issues.

"You have to wait a little bit, and as long as you have the time planned for it," McLernon said. "I was just excited to get her. I tried to stay in the mentality of gratitude which I think is what this holiday is all about."

For all the talk about air travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, more Americans drive to get where they are going for Thanksgiving.

"If you are only going a couple of hours away, flying doesn't necessarily make sense. If you have to have five or six people in a vehicle, that's significantly more cost-effective for most people than it is to fly," Mitts said. "Once you're there, you can move around and drive around without having to rent a vehicle."

Despite the gas prices at the highest level ever for the Thanksgiving travel rush, AAA predicts nearly 49 million Americans will travel by car during the holiday weekend. The average price of a gallon of gas across Iowa is $3.35.

"If that is hitting a budget line item, people are choosing to shift their budgets elsewhere, whether that is having a bigger budget for gas or just adding to their vacation budget," Mitts said. "Maybe it's eating at slightly less nice restaurants, doing one less excursion. staying at a less nice hotel. Those are those ways that people can choose to cut back costs without canceling their trips."

With so many people on the roads, the holiday weekend historically has been one of the deadliest on Iowa roads. The National Safety Council estimates that between Wednesday and Sunday, 518 people could die in car crashes nationwide.

According to the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau, during the Thanksgiving travel period last year, between November 15 and 28, eleven people died in crashes on Iowa roadways.

Over the next few days, several Iowa law enforcement agencies, including the Iowa State Patrol, will be out on the roads in full force.

"We know there will likely be more crashes because more people are on the road. We want to stop that by visibility and by stopping the cars," Iowa State Trooper Bob Conrad said. "Nobody wants a ticket, and we don't want to give those tickets, but it is something that changes behavior and changes people make some slow things down."

Between November 15 and 28, the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau is partnering with law enforcement agencies across Iowa to address the influx of drivers by increasing education and traffic enforcement to promote safer driving. There will be extra State Troopers on the roads throughout the holiday weekend, and troopers will be keeping a close eye out for impaired drivers and other traffic violations to keep Iowa roads safe.

They are cracking down on impaired drivers, speeding, aggressive drivers and distractions.

"Drive the speed limit, put the phone down, and enjoy the scenery here in Iowa," Trooper Conrad said. "If you're going to be late, be late and don't try and make it up by speeding. Don't try and take care of the boredom by looking at your phone watching the video because that's when you run into the back of somebody."

So far, in 2022, 303 people have died in car crashes on Iowa's roadways, and 45% have not been wearing a seatbelt.

"It doesn't cost anything, and it's the number one thing that will save your life in a crash," Conrad said. "When I see 45% of the people who died in Iowa, many of those would still are standing here. They would be going to celebrate with their family and friends, and that's just a sad fact."

If you plan to travel for Thanksgiving, make a plan and check your car before heading out.

"Make sure there is air in your tires, your windshield wipers work, and your car maintenance is up to date so you can get safely to your destination," Mitts said.

AAA expects to rescue about 400,000 stranded motorists throughout the holiday season with dead batteries, blown tires or other issues. You and your family don't want to be one of them.

Above all, pack your patience and build in an extra cushion when you leave.

"There will be lines, there will be traffic, there will be potentially bad weather that's going to slow you down," Mitts said. "Remember, it's okay. You're going to get there. We want you to get there safe, and we want you to get there as on time as possible."