By land, by air

Published 8:06 pm Monday, November 23, 2009

If preliminary travel predictions hold true, about 11,600 Suffolk residents will travel out of town this Thanksgiving to spend time with family and friends.

Roughly 14.6 percent of Virginia’s population is expected to travel at least 50 miles from home during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Not many of those traveling will go by plane, however. The number of travelers by air nationwide is expected to decline 6.7 percent from 2008, despite the overall travel increase of 1.4 percent from last year.

“It’s difficult to say under the current economic conditions,” Wayne Shank, executive director of the Norfolk Airport Authority, said. The Authority owns and manages Norfolk International Airport. “We’re expecting pretty much the same level of travel we experienced last year.”

Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year for air travel, Shank said, beating out Christmas due to the fact people all are leaving and returning on the same day during Thanksgiving.

“It’s the heaviest travel time in the aviation industry,” Shank said. “Christmas, you have travel spread over a longer time.”

Compounding this week’s air travel will be a slight decrease in the number of seats from last year, Shank said. The Norfolk market’s seat capacity has decreased by about 238 seats from this time last year, Shank said.

“Compared to a lot of airports, that’s not so bad,” he noted.

Shank encouraged people traveling by air during Thanksgiving to bring their patience to the airport.

“There are going to be more people, and lines are going to be longer,” Shank said.

Shank encouraged people to book their flights, check in and print their boarding passes at home, if possible. Travelers should minimize their carry-on bags and luggage as much as possible.

“Just be a smart traveler,” Shank said.

In addition, people who are traveling by air with Christmas gifts for family and friends should wait until they’ve arrived at their destination to wrap presents, Shank said.

“Depending on what you’ve wrapped, the (Transportation Security Administration) may unwrap it for you,” Shank said. “If you’re carrying Christmas gifts, wrap it at the other end.”

Those who will be meeting loved ones at the Norfolk airport can utilize the flight tracker on the airport’s Web site, www.norfolkairport.com. The tracker will allow people to see if the flight has been delayed or canceled. The site also includes helpful features such as up-to-date lists on prohibited items.

Hitting the road

Meanwhile, those traveling by ground are expected to account for 86 percent of Thanksgiving travelers.

In a news release this week, the Virginia State Police encouraged travelers to start the tradition of wearing safety belts if they don’t already.

“Buckling up only takes a matter of seconds and is one of the easiest and surest ways to increase your chances of surviving a traffic crash,” Col. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police superintendent, said in the release. “Why run the risk of endangering yourself by not wearing a seat belt? Why run the risk of getting a ticket for failing to obey the law? Why not start this Thanksgiving holiday with a new tradition of always wearing your safety belt?”

Of the 12 people killed in traffic crashes in Virginia during the 2008 Thanksgiving holiday, nine were not wearing seat belts, state police officials said.

Virginia State Police will be conducting its annual Operation Combined Accident Reduction Effort this week, which is intended to decrease traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities as a result of speeding, impaired driving and failure to use safety restraints.

Motorists also are reminded of the state’s “Move Over” law, which requires drivers to change to another lane or slow down when passing emergency personnel stopped on the side of the road.