ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Thanksgiving travel may not wind up being the turkey that everyone feared after all.
AAA predicted Thursday that overall Thanksgiving travel will drop by only 6 percent compared to last year.
``With all the recent doom and gloom in the travel industry, a 6 percent drop is a definite improvement from the double-digit declines of the last two months,'' said Sandra Hughes, travel vice president for the automobile association.
But a greater portion of travelers than usual will be hitting the road instead of taking to the skies.
Eighty-seven percent of travelers will go by motor vehicles, the highest percentage ever recorded by AAA. Only 83 percent of travelers went by car last year. That translates into 30 million motorists, compared with 30.5 million a year ago.
Travel and tourism officials are looking at the Thanksgiving holiday as a crucial barometer for how quickly the U.S. tourism industry will recover from the devastating blow of the Sept. 11 attacks.
``What we have in the final analysis is a Thanksgiving holiday that ... shows the potential for the start of a turnaround in leisure travel,'' Hughes said.
Overall, the AAA estimated that 34.6 million U.S. residents plan to travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving, compared to 36.8 million last year.
About 4.6 million people plan to travel by airplane, a 27 percent decline from last year's 6.3 million. Thanksgiving airfare is cheaper than last year, and there are more available seats on planes than in previous years despite cutbacks in schedules, Hughes said.
The AAA survey, conducted by the Travel Industry Association, involved 1,300 U.S. adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.