Prices Drive D.C. College Students To The Roads For Thanksgiving

Photo by Dome Poon: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pooniesphotos/4498385541/

An estimated 9 out of 10 Thanksgiving travelers out of D.C. will be taking to the roads, so expect delays on the Beltway.

Even with airfares down and gas prices up, students hit the road.

More students are likely to drive home than fly for Thanksgiving this year, according to a survey from AAA Mid-Atlantic.

MWAA’s Holiday Travel Tips:

  • Confirm the status of your flight directly with your airline before coming to the airport. Weather here or in other parts of the country can affect airline schedules across the route network.
  • Print out your boarding pass before in advance. Some airlines also offer electronic boarding passes.
  • Bring government-issued photo ID to the airport for all adult passengers.
  • The busiest days will include the Friday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving. Expect full flights and full luggage bins onboard.
  • Pack wisely – no prohibited items in carry-on luggage; and no valuable items in checked luggage. Label your luggage so your name is plainly visible.
  • Reagan National customers check parking availability online at www.mwaa.com/reagan or at 703-417-PARK. Economy tends to fill over holiday periods.
  • The Airports Authority has convenient dining options at both Reagan National and Dulles International. Sit down and enjoy a meal before your flight or order something to bring with you on the airplane. Shopping and Dining guides are available at shopdullesairport.com and shopreagannational.com.
  • For travelers not familiar with the airport, printable one-page information sheets are available in the “Travel Tips” section at Dulles International or Reagan National webpages. Travelers can also follow tweets about both airports at twitter.com/dcairports.

Source: Metropolitian Washington Airports Authority press release

“Students are price-conscious,” said Lon Anderson, staff director of public relations at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “So they’re saying, ‘How can I get home most cheaply?’ And for most of them, that is by car.”

The cost of the average lowest round-trip flight for the top 40 routes is $188, according to Anderson. That represents an 11 percent decrease compared to fares last year. Area residents aren’t biting, as travel through the three local airports is expected be down 1.1 percent over last year, with road travel making up much of the difference.

Brianna Hurley, a 21-year-old psychology major at American University, said she considers herself lucky to still live within driving distance of her family in Lothian, Md. She doesn’t have a car herself, but says she hitches a ride from one of the 50 friends and family members in the area who attend the Thanksgiving feast at her parents’ house.

“I just take the Metro to the end of the line and have somebody pick me up there,” said Hurley. “It’s pretty easy.”

Anderson cautioned that drivers are likely to see gridlock, as AAA Mid-Atlantic’s polls forecast that 91 percent of the estimated 1,074,500 D.C. area travelers will be driving this year. For many, it may be worth the risk.

“If you’re looking for the cheapest mode to go — then driving is it,” said Anderson. “Get three or four people in the car and split the gas.”

For Ben Arnett, a 23-year-old American University graduate student from Laguna Hills, Calif., flying is the only option. He decided not to make the trip for Thanksgiving this year, for the first time ever, citing a combination of cost, time and convenience.

“I had to make the choice between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Arnett. “And Christmas is just more important.”

Instead of spending the holiday with his family, Arnett said he’ll be attending a number of potluck dinners hosted by friends in the D.C. area. He said many of the other students in his program at the School of International Service are in the same boat.

“Friends are definitely something to be thankful for as well,” Arnett said.

For students like Hurley, however, heading home will be worth sitting in a little traffic.

“Family is everything,” she said. “It’s just great to have everyone around.”

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