Record Number of Americans Will Travel for the Holiday, Causing Massive Gridlock

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Americans will travel at record levels this year. Over 115 million people will go somewhere via planes, trains, buses and automobiles between December 21 and January 1. Congestion on many roads will be horrible. In some cases, drive times will be double those on normal traffic days.

AAA forecasts that 115.6 million people plan to travel over the period: “That is the most in nearly 20 years since AAA began tracking in 2000, and represents an increase of 3.9% over last year, or 4.3 million more people packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway.” Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel, commented, “Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels, and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth.

Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays.”

Of those who will travel, almost 105 million people will travel by car. On Thursday and Friday in the period, nationally travel times could double. In New York and Washington, that number could run as high as three times the regular travel time. Overall, many of the worst metropolitan areas to drive can be found in just a few states — these are America’s worst cities to drive in.

AAA has forecast these times by major city.

City Worst Day to Travel Peak congestion period Delay Multiplier
Atlanta Thursday, Dec. 26 4:30 – 6:30 PM 1.3x
Boston Friday, Dec. 27 4:00 – 6:00 PM 1.5x
Chicago Thursday, Dec. 26 4:45 – 6:45 PM 1.3x
Detroit Thursday, Dec. 26 4:30 – 6:30 PM 1.4x
Houston Friday, Dec. 27 4:30 – 6:30 PM 1.8x
Los Angeles Thursday, Dec. 26 4:25 – 6:25 PM 1.6x
New York Thursday, Dec. 26 4:15 – 6:15 PM 2.7x
San Francisco Thursday, Dec. 26 4:00 – 6:00 PM 2.0x
Seattle Friday, Dec. 27 4:15 – 6:15 PM 1.2x
Washington, D.C. Thursday, Dec. 26 4:00 – 6:00 PM 3.0x


One reason travel will hit a multiyear peak is low gas prices. Another is a rise in consumer confidence. Between them, the economy around travel should get a boost, even if drivers need to sit in their cars for vexingly long periods. Residents of some big cities in the country spend the equivalent of about a week a year just sitting in slow-moving traffic. Here are the cities with the worst (and best) commutes.