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Travelers Take to Skies, Roads; RDU, Triangle Roads Have No Problems

Triangle travelers and Americans nationwide headed to airports and train stations Wednesday for what was predicted to be the largest Thanksgiving pilgrimage ever.

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RDU Travel
RALEIGH, N.C. — Americans started heading to airports and train stations hours ahead of time Wednesday for one of the year's heaviest travel days, but things were running smoothly at RDU International Airport as people planned for the crush and weather cooperated.

"It was very busy this morning, but the wait at security checkpoints was under 30 minutes even at the busiest times," RDU spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said.


RDU expected to handle as many as 34,000 passengers departing and arriving on Wednesday, Hamlin said. For the holiday week and the following weekend, total passenger traffic was likely to be 300,000 people, she said.

The next rush will probably be in the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. window, Hamlin said. That is normally a busy time of day with many flights in and out.

On area roads, traffic was moving normally for a weekday, said Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Everett Clendenin. Troopers expected volume to surge after about 3 p.m., he said.

Across the country, The Associated Press reported that people were starting out early to get a jump on what was predicted to be the largest Thanksgiving pilgrimage ever – despite rising gas prices and fears of air delays.

Credit for the smooth sailing at RDU goes to travelers themselves, Hamlin said.

"People are used to the things they have to do to travel" because of heightened airport security, Hamlin said, and their new habits are serving them well for the holiday rush. That includes arriving early to accommodate slower lines,she explained.

A record 38.7 million U.S. residents were expected to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday.

Some were hoping to beat the evening rush on what is often called the busiest travel day of the year, and airport check-in lines started building before daybreak.

Sally and Neil MacDonald of Sandy Hook, Conn., were flying from New York's LaGuardia Airport with their three children to Arkansas for a big family reunion.

"It's too long to drive," said Sally MacDonald at a crowded LaGuardia food court. "This gives us more time to enjoy family instead of having our three little kids in the car for 22 hours."

She made her traditional pumpkin cheesecake for the feast and carried it in a covered plastic pie plate. "If they don't allow it, I guess the airport security will be enjoying my pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving," she said.

At the Salt Lake City airport, Dennis Tos set out even earlier, boarding a redeye flight shortly before midnight Tuesday.

"I specifically chose this hour to not get stuck in an airport. The horror stories kind of bothered me," he said en route to a family reunion near Buffalo, N.Y. "I've never missed a Thanksgiving in the 58 years I've been alive."

About 31.2 million travelers were expected to drive to holiday celebrations in spite of gas prices that were nearly 85 cents more per gallon than they were a year earlier, according to AAA. The national average for regular gasoline on November 16 was $3.09 a gallon, up from $2.23 on November 17, 2006.

"The question becomes 'Is 10 dollars or 15 dollars more for gas enough to change travel plans?' and obviously most Americans said 'no,'" said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Trains also were busy. Travelers trickled into New York's Pennsylvania Station in the pre-dawn darkness.

Carrie Seligson, a 38-year-old construction worker, said she got a better rate by booking a seat on one of the earliest trains to Washington, where she was going to spend the holiday with her family and attend her 20th high school reunion.

"I wasn't sure what I was in for," said Seligson, who arrived at Penn Station an hour before her scheduled departure. "There are too many people later in the day, and the train gets too crowded."

However, the scene at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station was reminiscent of a normal weekday, with none of the lengthy lines that sometimes curve across the station's large concourse.

That made it easier for Shelly O'Connell, 49, of Philadelphia, who caught an 8:15 a.m. Amtrak train to Chicago to visit family, a trip she takes every year. She said she left home a little earlier Tuesday in anticipation of heavy crowds.

"I'm an old pro at this. I've got it down to a science," O'Connell said.

Amtrak expected more than 115,000 riders on Wednesday, about a 70 percent increase over a usual Wednesday, spokesman Cliff Cole said. Everything was running smoothly for the holiday, Cole said.

Lines were shorter at bus company ticket windows in New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Jason Butler, 37, said he was taking a bus to Paul Smiths, New York, near the Canadian border, to visit his girlfriend because "it would have cost me double to drive." The trip was important because Thanksgiving means "just being with someone I love."

High gas prices didn't affect Sonja Cavanzo's decision to take a 14-hour bus trip from New York to Columbus, Ohio, to spend the holiday with her boyfriend and his family. She just enjoys the ride.

Cavanzo, 23, was taking "a teddy bear for my boyfriend's mother, and a Christmas ornament and little Christmas tree for my boyfriend." And she planned to help her boyfriend's mother with all the cooking.

The possibility of travel hassles didn't bother 10-year-old Liana Merdinger of Long Beach, New York, waiting with her mother, Joan, for a flight from LaGuardia to Orlando, Florida "I am 10 years old and I've been on 12 cruises," Liana said.

They planned to cook after they arrive. "Sweet potatoes and marshmallows. That's my favorite," declared Liana. But that wasn't the most important thing about the holiday. "I think it's spending time with family," said Liana.

In all, about 4.7 million U.S. residents were expected to fly for the holiday, according to AAA.

Han Nguyen was edgy about safety and delays as she waited for her flight from Dallas Fort Worth-International Airport to Las Vegas to meet her husband for the holiday.

"When you think of going on the airplane you kind of always have crazy ideas in your head that something could go wrong," she said by phone.

Denver resident Kevin Lillehei booked a series of flights with a 7-hour cushion in anticipation of delays, lines and missed connections. He arrived at Miami International Airport from Chile, after a cruise to Antarctica, and planned to spend the holidays in Minneapolis.

"It's been very calm," Lillehei said of Miami's airport.

But he was concerned about the rest of his trip: "You always have to worry about snow and delays in Minneapolis, so getting back Sunday is going to be a hit or a miss."

However, the weather seemed unlikely to cause any significant delays Wednesday. Michael Musher, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said light snow in the Midwest and light rain elsewhere around the country could cause only minor problems.

AAA's predictions for holiday travel are based in part on an online survey of U.S. residents, whose answers are weighted based on factors including education, income and geography. Participants are contacted via e-mail and elect to answer a questionnaire online.


Associated Press writers Brock Vergakis in Salt Lake City; Matt Joyce in Grapevine, Texas; Suzette LaBoy in Miami; JoAnn Loviglio in Philadelphia; Sofia Mannos and Jackie Bsharah in Washington, and Rebecca Miller, Pat Milton, David B. Caruso in New York City contributed to this report.

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