Terror fears add to Thanksgiving travel stress

Posted November 24, 2015 4:20 p.m. EST
Updated November 24, 2015 6:18 p.m. EST

— That other Thanksgiving tradition — congested highways and jammed airports — is getting underway with gas prices low and terrorism fears high.

An estimated 46.9 million Americans are expected to take a car, plane, bus or train at least 50 miles from home over the long holiday weekend, according to the motoring organization AAA. That would be an increase of more than 300,000 people over last year, and the most travelers since 2007.

Among the reasons given for the increase: an improving economy and the cheapest gasoline for this time of year since 2008.

On Tuesday, some travelers were gearing up for an early exit.

"There's a little bit of a tie-up here, but I'm sure once we get going, things will be great," Mark Sullivan said as he waited at New York's Port Authority bus terminal. He was traveling to see family in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Anyone trekking to a major airport should factor in 50 extra minutes on the road, according to the traffic date company INRIX — and that's just getting to the airport, never mind getting through security.

Though there have been no changes to the nation's terror alert status, the recent attacks in Paris, West Africa and elsewhere prompted the State Department to warn American travelers to be especially vigilant, whether staying close to home or traveling overseas.

Jocelyn Idriss, who lives and works in Hawaii, made an early holiday trip home to the Triangle. Before her plane took off, she got the State Department alert.

"I was a little apprehensive because I flew out last night at 9 p.m.," she said.

Michael Webster shared some of that apprehension as he prepared to head to Raleigh from Boston.

"Everything was on a high alert. Obviously we were concerned," he said.

The alert warns that groups like ISIS continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions.

Duke Sanford School of Public Policy professor David Schanzer says the threat of ISIS is one all Americans should take seriously.

"They have designs on global disruption and that means Americans could be targeted," Schanzer said. "It makes sense to warn Americans that this is a new and emerging problem."

Schanzer said Americans should still take advantage of the opportunity to travel but should take precautions.

"Because of things we've seen in recent weeks, they need to be aware that there are risks out there to take in mind as they're traveling," he said.

On Tuesday, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, Peter Neffenger, boasted that the U.S. has the world's best aviation security and assured the public that TSA is "taking every measure to protect the millions of air travelers in the coming weeks."

Airfares have increased just 69 cents on average since last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies.