Holiday travelers brace for crowded roads, airways

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 27, 2003

Associated Press writer

BOSTON – The Thanksgiving travel rush got off to a trouble-free start Wednesday morning with clear skies across most of the country and short lines at most airport security checkpoints, despite what officials anticipated to be the busiest Thanksgiving holiday season since the 2001 terror attacks.

Thirty-six million people nationwide were expected to travel 50 miles or more from their homes over the holiday weekend – the highest number of travelers in two years, according to the AAA travel group.


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&uot;Number one, it’s the economy. Whenever people feel more confident about their own personal finances, usually you see a little jump in travel,” AAA spokesman Mantill Williams said.

Gas prices have also been stable, and the weather is perfect for traveling either by air or car, Williams said. &uot;Apparently, they don’t anticipate any type of inclement weather throughout the weekend, so we’re confident the travel is going to live up to our expectations,” he said.

AAA predicted 4.6 million people would fly over the holidays, up 1 percent from 2002 but still 10 to 15 percent lower than pre-Sept. 11 levels.

At airports early Wednesday, the waiting times at security checkpoints ranged from no waiting at all in Cincinnati and Chicago to 15 minutes in Los Angeles, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Brian Turmail said.

In Phoenix, the wait time was 2 minutes. &uot;The line was longer at the bakery than at the checkpoint,” Turmail said.

&uot;Folks were predicting gloom and doom on Thanksgiving travel, but so far we’re going great,” he said.

The TSA offered tips to save airline passengers a few minutes in line, including storing all metal items in a carry-on bag, taking laptop computers out of their cases so they can be quickly inspected, and taking off coats and shoes before reaching the front of the line.

&uot;You’d be amazed at what people have in their bags,” TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said. &uot;If they’ll just check the list, most of these items are fine in a checked bag.”

Officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport expected 250,000 passengers to fly out of Atlanta on Sunday.

&uot;As long as you can keep people moving, it’s not that bad,” said Willie Williams, Atlanta’s TSA director. &uot;People don’t mind the security. They want a safe ride.”

Despite the uptick in air travel, the vast majority of Thanksgiving travelers will still take to the nation’s roadways this weekend. AAA predicted that 31 million people would reach their destination by car despite a national average gas price of $1.51 per gallon.

&uot;Even if gas prices are high, it’s still a relatively cheap way to go,” said Art Kinsman, a spokesman for AAA Southern New England.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said 550,000 passengers were predicted to travel by rail between Tuesday and Monday. Amtrak has added 70 extra trains including 31 Acela Express trains.

&uot;I think it keeps getting more and more crowded,” said Leah Cimmelli, a 21-year-old senior at Boston University who was crammed into a full train Tuesday on her way to New York.

Officials at Indianapolis International Airport anticipated their busiest period since the terror attacks more than two years ago, said spokesman Dennis Rosebrough.

&uot;People are definitely wanting to travel more,” said Sally Brown, president of Indianapolis-based Ambassadair Travel Club. &uot;This week is one of the Big Three, right up there with Spring Break and New Year’s week in terms of people heading out to fun spots.”

Some travelers weren’t waiting until the last minute to get to their destination. Sherice Muhammad, 31, of Detroit, headed home from Atlanta on Monday to beat Thanksgiving traffic, just in case.

&uot;I used to work for the airlines,” Muhammad said. &uot;So I knew I wanted to get out.”

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