Gas prices drive fewer to travel, more to fly for July 4th

WASHINGTON Fri Jul 1, 2011 2:54pm EDT

The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is followed by a chase plane after taking off on its maiden flight from Paine Field, in Everett, Washington, March 20, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Sorbo

The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is followed by a chase plane after taking off on its maiden flight from Paine Field, in Everett, Washington, March 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Sorbo

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fewer Americans will hit the road during the Independence day weekend, consistently one of the heaviest travel periods of the year, but more are expected to take to the skies to reach their holiday destinations.

Between Thursday June 30 and Monday July 4, 39 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home, according to AAA Independence Day forecast. That is a 2.5 percent decrease from last year.

"AAA is projecting a slight decline in the number of Independence Day travelers mainly due to fuel prices being approximately one dollar per gallon higher than last year," director of AAA Travel Services Glen MacDonell said in a statement.

A gallon of gasoline averaged $3.55 on Friday. On the same day last year the average cost of a gallon was $2.75, according to AAA.

"Increased fuel costs are also responsible for a shift in the demographics of the typical Independence Day traveler as higher prices impact lower income households more significantly," MacDonell said.

While five out of every six travelers will make their trips by automobile, the number of people flying is projected to increase by nine percent to three million travelers.

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, often considered the second busiest airport in America, will see a three percent increase in travelers over last year's numbers, a spokeswoman said.

At Midway Airport, also in Chicago, airlines project an six percent increase.

Higher prices for gas, airfare, and hotels will effect the plans of 44 percent of travelers, according to an AAA survey.

Charlene Smith and her 14 year-old son Nyland scaled back their vacation plans considerably.

"I went to Hawaii last year," the Hampton, Virginia resident emphasized.

Smith said that she wanted somewhere she could make a quick trip in easy driving distance. At about 180 miles away from Hampton, the nation's capital seemed like a good choice for the Fourth of July.

"This is a far cry from Hawaii, but it's still nice," she told Reuters while taking a stroll to the National Mall with her son.

The average distance traveled for the holiday is down to 573 miles from 617 miles last year while the median spending is expected to jump 25 percent to $807, the AAA said.

(Additional reporting by Molly O'Toole; Editing by Greg McCune)

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