Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Some travelers head to grandma's house earlier this Thanksgiving

At the world's busiest airport, Joe Lamport had plenty of time on his hands ? he had arrived two days early for Thanksgiving.
"I wanted to beat the rush," said the 35-year-old New York City man, who brought his family to Atlanta to spend the holiday with his brother-in-law's family.
Lamport wasn't alone. Although the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest travel days of the year, it seems many holiday travelers hit the road or boarded planes a little earlier this year.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport reported 289,597 passengers on Tuesday ? nearly 4,100 more than what's expected for Wednesday. Tuesday's rush also prompted lighter-than-normal commuter traffic in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.
Why? Like Lamport, many wanted to avoid the long lines, delays and downright rudeness from snarling fellow passengers that often comes with waiting until the day before the holiday to leave town.
After years of recommending that holiday travelers leave early, AAA said it appears U.S. travelers are finally listening and have learned how to avoid being caught in unpleasant holiday travel conditions.
"It used to be that everyone waited until Wednesday afternoon to leave for Thanksgiving trips, but now that's starting to spread out because they are trying to avoid those peak travel hours," said Mantill Williams, a national spokesman for AAA, which estimates nearly 37.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving weekend but does not break down those numbers by day.
"Travelers understand that if they can leave on a Tuesday instead of Wednesday, they can avoid some of the traffic jams and long waits at the airport and cut their trips by as much as half," Williams said.
Tuesdays before Thanksgiving always are the busiest travel days for the Greyhound bus company, mainly because of the additional time it takes for buses to travel across vast distances. Also, holiday blackout dates for advance purchases and companion fare tickets go into effect on Wednesday.
"We have seen a higher number of passengers," said spokesman Dustin Clark, who did not have exact travel estimates for Tuesday and Wednesday travel.
Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell said 125,000 people last year traveled on Amtrak trains the day before Thanksgiving, up 80% from the 69,000 who ride the trains on an average day. No data was available yet for this year.
Atlanta's airport said Tuesday was its busiest day of the year so far, but it is expected to be eclipsed Sunday when nearly 300,000 passengers are expected to pass through its gates.
Some travelers said they had no choice ? either no seats were available on flights later in the week or tickets were too expensive.
Lynn Hoh, 48, of Conyers, Ga., said her 82-year-old mother, Jean, wanted to come to Atlanta on Wednesday but the flights were all booked up so she flew in from Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday instead. In addition, she wanted to return home Saturday, but that ticket was too expensive so she will return Dec. 3.
"She'd like to get home to her dog," Hoh said.
On Tuesday, security lines at the Atlanta airport grew early and passengers such as Lamport passed time waiting for relatives to greet them by playing with their children, catching naps in the airport's busy atrium or standing outside in the chilly air for car rides.
Airport spokesman Felicia Browder said the day's high travel numbers likely represented an anomaly that likely won't be continued next year.
Likewise, other airports estimated Tuesday represented a slightly smaller travel day than Wednesday ? Miami International Airport reported 83,700 passengers Tuesday and estimated 92,000 passengers Wednesday. Denver International Airport also said it had a little more than 130,000 passengers Tuesday and estimated more than 150,000 for Wednesday.
About a half-hour after Lamport waited in the airport atrium, his brother-in-law arrived. Lamport said his family will stay through next Tuesday to avoid the return rush Sunday.
"I wanted to cut it off on both ends," he said.

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