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Fewer Utahns driving over Christmas, but uptick in air travel is expected

Holiday travelers walk to check-in at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. Photo credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY – The American Automobile Association (AAA) is predicting that many Utahns will stay home for the holidays.

The association estimates travel from Dec. 23, 2020, through Jan. 3rd, 20221 will decline by 30% as compared to last year.

AAA Utah spokesman Aldo Vazquez said that is the biggest drop in over a decade. He believes the fear of COVID-19 is putting a dent in people’s travel plans.

However, fear is not the only factor.

“Because a lot of states are implementing new restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, people are listening and putting off their [vacations] for the time being,” Vazquez said.

Those restrictions can sometimes force people to change their plans quickly.

“Last minute, maybe a day or two before, they’re deciding not to [travel],” Vazquez said. “They’re listening to what’s going on on the news, paying attention to what’s happening to the destinations they may be going to and they decide, ‘You know what? Right now’s not the best time to travel.'”

If Utahns do travel, most will do so by car.

The airport may be another story

However, officials from Salt Lake City International Airport (Airport) think they will see 16,000 travelers come through the airport doors this Christmas. That is the most people they have seen since the pandemic started.

And that total doesn’t include the number of people who will connect through the airport.

RELATED: US airport traffic rising despite holiday travel warnings

Airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer says airlines are making it more attractive to travel.

“The airlines have loosened some of their policies so people are able to make last-minute travel plans,” Volmer says.

This includes getting rid of change fees.

But a few things at the Airport haven’t changed.  Volmer still recommends travelers get to the airport two hours early so they can catch their flight. Masks will also be required, along with the many other COVID-19 safety measures the Airport has in place.