High gas prices not stopping thanksgiving travel
by Alan Levin and Larry Copeland,
Low visibility due to weather caused departure delays of an hour and a half for travelers leaving Newark Airport, 45 minutes at Boston, more than two hours at White Plains, N.Y. airport, and an hour at LaGuardia in New York.
The delays spread to Baltimore's BWI airport, which experienced waits of up to an hour and to Chicago, where heavy traffic held up flights up to 45 minutes.
Likewise, flights destined for most of those northestern airports were delayed at the point of origin in what could create a domino affect throughout the system
In addition, a snow advisory was issued for Denver, which picked up some flurries Tuesday night. A cold front was also expected to bring snow to northeast Kansas and northern Illinois, including Chicago, Wednesday evening.
In much of the southeast, however, clear skies kept air traffic humming on time for the most part.
Good news or bad, millions shrugged off high gas prices, the prospect of traffic jams and flight delays to hit the roads, airports and train tracks.
An estimated 38.7 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving, an increase of 1.5% over last year, according to AAA. Most, about 31.2 million, will go by road, says the auto club formerly known as the American Automobile Association.
The lure of longer trips remains strong, too, according to AAA and airlines. People will take about 27 million flights during the 12 days surrounding Thanksgiving, a 4% increase over last year, the Air Transport Association estimates. With 90% of all seats filled, the airline trade group is warning passengers they are likely to experience crowded airports and flight delays as the travel period heads for the peak.
Travelers trickled into New York's Pennsylvania Station in the pre-dawn darkness, including Carrie Seligson, a 38-year-old construction worker, who got to the station an hour before her departure 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.
"There are too many people later in the day, and the train gets too crowded," said Seligson. Lines were relative short at ticket windows in New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal.
The increase in travel comes despite high gas prices. "This is the first time that we have seen gas prices topping more than $3 a gallon in November," said Robert Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA. "A year ago, prices were in the range of $2.20 a gallon, so this year travelers are really feeling the pinch."
Randy and Peggy Handy, who planned to drive about 1,200 miles each way from their home in Danville, Va., to visit friends in Mississippi, almost canceled the annual trip this year because of soaring gas prices.
"But it may be $5 (a gallon) next month," says Peggy, who spoke at a rest stop on Interstate 20 in Alabama. The couple, both in their 70s, decided to go, anyway, visiting friends from Randy's days in the Army Signal Corps.
Sandra Stott, 44, of Middletown, Conn., and Ann Alford, 43, of Weston, Vt., got stopped cold for nearly three hours while driving to Washington, D.C. The women were stuck north of Baltimore along with hundreds of others when Interstate 95, the major highway along the East Coast, was closed in both directions by a fire on a tractor trailer.
Stott, a frequent business traveler, says she has learned to expect delays and took the blockage in stride. "Ann did her Christmas cards. I got the camera out. We had snacks," she says.
Travelers in the South could face similar woes, over a longer time. A 55-mile stretch of Interstate 10, the major east-west route between New Orleans and Houston, will be closed until at least Dec. 4 because of a burning natural gas well less than 100 yards from the interstate in Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin.