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What to know if you're one of the 1.6 million in SC traveling over the holidays

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The number of people flying out of South Carolina over the Christmas and New Year's holidays is expected to increase almost 5 percent compared to 2018. File/Staff

More holiday travelers are expected on the roads and in the skies this December than last year, breaking records both in the Carolinas and nationwide. 

About 4.9 million Carolinians, including 1.6 million people in South Carolina, are expected to travel between Sunday, Dec. 22, and New Year's Day, according to AAA Carolinas. That's a nearly 4 percent increase compared to 2018. 

People traveling by car in the Palmetto State will make up about 88 percent of the mobile revelers. Another 94,000 South Carolinians are expected to board flights to their holiday destinations, up about 5 percent from last year. 

Nationwide, AAA predicts about 115.6 million Americans will travel over the holidays this month. That's the highest prediction the roadside service provider has made since it started tracking holiday travel in 2000, and this is the eighth consecutive year that travel estimates have exceeded previous records. 

Travel for Christmas, New Year's and other late-December celebrations tends to generate less traffic than Thanksgiving, since the popular travel period, per AAA's measures, is spread over 11 days compared to Thanksgiving's five. 

INRIX, a global transportation analytics company that contributes to AAA's holiday reports, predicted the worst traffic delays will be on the afternoon of Dec. 26 in major U.S. cities, but most delays will be minor. 

The S.C. Department of Transportation doesn't allow lane closures on interstate highways for non-emergency work over the holiday travel period. Those limits started Friday morning and stay in effect for two weeks through 10 p.m. Jan. 3. 

Drivers heading to the Southeast hubs of Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Raleigh may want to keep an eye out for aggressive driving. A new study from the fuel-price tracking site GasBuddy ranked those cities in its top 10 for the most instances of aggressive driving over the holidays. 

The analysis only included the 50 most-populous metros in the U.S., so no South Carolina cities were studied. 

People traveling by car will be paying more at the pump this Christmas. In South Carolina, prices are averaging around $2.27 per gallon, which is a quarter more than prices at the same time last year. 

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Gas prices were at their lowest for the year in mid-December 2018, about $2 a gallon.

While gas prices are up, airfares from South Carolina's major airports were down this Christmas compared to last. Charleston International had the lowest average prices for round-trip domestic airfares, according to an analysis by the flight booking site Hopper. 

Average airfares from Charleston were about $313 this year, Hopper found, about a 10 percent drop compared to last year. Greenville had the second-lowest fares, averaging at $316, followed by $325 out of both Myrtle Beach and Columbia. 

Most Americans booked their flights between Saturday, Dec. 21, and Monday, Dec. 23, AAA found, with Sunday expected to be the busiest day for air travel. The best day to fly, both for prices and minimal crowds, is Christmas Eve. 

Construction on Charleston International's new five-tier parking deck is still underway, cutting into some of the airport's most convenient parking spaces. An overflow holiday parking lot has been open since Thanksgiving.

Shuttles are available to transport passengers from the remote lot to the terminal. 

Due to parking and lines, passengers are advised to get to the terminal for holiday flights earlier than they might usually arrive, about 90 minutes to two hours before a flight's scheduled departure. 

Last year, about 233,000 people came through Charleston's terminal in the days before and after Christmas and New Year's, and there were nearly 36,000 passengers during the full month of December. 

So far in 2019, the airport has seen an uptick in passenger counts every month. In a notice to holiday travelers, Charleston County Aviation Authority said its expects December traffic to follow that pattern. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and aerospace. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.

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