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More Labor Day travelers expected to use rail, bus

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Fewer travelers are expected to fly or drive for the Labor Day holiday, with more opting instead for trains and buses as the weak economy and high fuel prices are altering the vacation habits of Americans.

In its annual Labor Day forecast, the AAA projected Friday that, in all, fewer Americans will travel more than 50 miles for the end of the summer holiday. About 34 million Americans are expected to travel during the long weekend, down about 1%, compared with last year. It would mark the first drop since 2006.

The vast majority, or more than 83% of travelers, is expected to drive to their destinations while 11.5% plan on flying and 5% hop on trains or buses.

But the number of travelers who’ll take their vehicles on the road is expected to drop 1.1%, from about 29 million -- while those planning to fly are seen dropping 4.5% to slightly below 4 million passengers.

More Americans are expected to try alternative modes of transportation such as hopping on a train or bus. Those numbers are seen jumping 12.5%.

“More travelers concerned about the economy, gasoline prices and rising airfares are opting to travel by train, bus, motorcycle and cruise ship to their holiday weekend destinations,” said Robert L. Darbelnet, president of AAA. “This trend points to a desire on the part of the American public to seek alternatives to flying and driving to enjoy the traditional end of summer vacation.”

Fuel prices are about 40 cents less than the July 4th holiday but are still 91 cents more than a year ago, the AAA said. The national average for self-serve regular gasoline was hovering at $3.70 a gallon today.

The travel projections are in line with similar forecasts from the airline industry, which earlier this week said that it expected passenger traffic to dip more than 5% for the Labor Day holiday.

In addition to gasoline prices, air fares are significantly higher than last year, according to Live Search Farecast, an air travel search website. Labor Day fares are up 25% compared with a year ago. LAX passengers are faring a little better with a cost of flights there rising 19%.

The website is warning travelers of even higher fares for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, which are expected to be up 35% and 31%, respectively, compared with last year.

“This holiday season may well be the perfect storm for airfare that sends travelers running for cover,” said Joel Grus, an airfare analyst for Live Search Farecast. “The combination of high fuel prices, airline capacity and route cuts means holiday travelers may easily spend upwards of $100 more per ticket than last year.”

peter.pae@latimes.com


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