WACO, TX — It's a comeback story playing out at the airport, the airlines, and even your wallet. Spurred by pent-up demand, American society is reemerging to take advantage of travel opportunities put off for past the year.
The recent shift in demand has been widely apparent said Mike Terry, a truck driver stopping in Waco to fuel up.
"When the pandemic started I drove north of Los Angeles to south of Los Angeles which normally takes forever," Terry explained. "There were more trucks on the road than there were cars. I've never seen anything like it. I thought we were going to zombies come out."
Today, Terry sees more cars than trucks on the road once again and a scene likely to play out across the country as we dive deeper into the Summer.
AAA is forecasting more than 40 million Americans will hit the roads or the skies this Independence Day (July 1-5), numbers close to pre-pandemic levels and the second-highest Independence Day travel volume recorded by AAA.
In Texas, the remarkable comeback of travel demand has been playing out since Memorial Day, said Daniel Armbruster, Spokesperson for AAA Texas.
"So for Texas, we will see the greatest number of people traveling on record for Independence Day that we've seen," Armbruster said. "So that's 3.3 million Texans that will be driving and 3.7 million total traveling for leisure. It just shows that as more people are getting vaccinated and certainly people are ready to get back out and travel."
A majority of those three-plus million Texans traveling will be in automobiles. Still, airports will see a boost as AAA Texas is forecasting 338,000 leisure passengers will travel away from home between July 1 and July 5. "Air travel is going to be up 177 percent over last," Armbruster said. "It's still 3% lower than it was in 2019, but pretty close to pre-pandemic levels."
However, while travel demand continues to surge, consumers should also prepare for an uptick in the price of renting a car and pump prices.
"So today our statewide average at $2.74, and it's about a dollar or so more than it was a year ago," Armbruster said. "And it likely will be around this range as we get closer to the Fourth of July."
The increase in pump prices is something seen across the country. The national average price per gallon of regular unleaded at $3.072 is up close to a dollar from the year ago. Avg. of $2.141, according to AAA Gas Prices.
Adrian Nelson, a healthcare worker driving to San Antonio from Michigan, said she's noticed the price increase.
"When I've traveled down here in the past, there's usually been a big difference in the price," Nelson said. "Now it's pretty much even, which is something I didn't expect. Prices are steep for a lot of things. It seems everything's inflated right now. I'm not sure why for gas. Maybe there's a gas shortage somewhere."
It's simple supply and demand, the latter pushing prices upward as both West Texas Intermediate and TI and Brent crude hit their highest mark since 2018.
"It's over 70 dollars a barrel," Armbruster explained. "Back during 2020, it was under 50 dollars a barrel, so it's at about a three-year high or two and a half year high right now. And certainly, if we continue to see travel pick up, demand for crude will continue to pick up, and the price could go up. But so many factors could change that you don't want to look too far out."
Adrian Nelson said despite the uptick at pump prices, it's nowhere near a point where she's considered altering any of her travel plans this summer. The sentiment is similar to what AAA is seeing this summer and ahead of the Fourth of July.
"They would have to be well over three dollars a gallon before most families would consider making any changes to their plans," Armbruster explained. "These prices are where they were three years ago so it's really easy to forget that over time, especially after the $1.47 a gallon on average we saw during 2020. But nonetheless, gas prices will not keep folks from traveling this summer."
Armbruster also cautions Independence Day travelers to be prepared for changes in the travel industry, both at the airport and on the road.
"With so many changes to the travel industry regarding protocol and safety, it would behoove travelers to work with a travel advisor just to make sure that they find a trip that's at their comfort level and that they can stay in touch with in case there's any last-minute changes."
For more information on pump prices, best and worst travel times, and tips on ensuring your vehicle is road-trip ready, visit AAA Texas.