Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.
The heaviest travel period of the year has gotten under way with the first wave of Thanksgiving travelers streaming onto highways and into the skies toward their holiday turkey dinners.
A record 38.9 million Americans plan to trek at least 100 miles from home this Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association. That’s up 4 percent from last year.
Four out of five people — 31.6 million travelers — will journey by car, the AAA said, based on a survey of 1,300 people. Another 7.3 million will travel by airplane, train or bus.
Gas Prices No Roadblock
The increase in travel plans comes despite the average cost of gasoline up by more than 25 cents a gallon from a year ago and airfares up an average of 13 percent.
The jump also comes as wintry weather returns to many parts of the East. A storm dumped 2 feet of snow on Buffalo, N.Y., this week, and flurries were in the forecast Wednesday for elsewhere in the Northeast and the Great Lakes region.
Airline and airport officials had one eye on the weather and the other on labor disputes that threatened to cause holiday travel delays or cancellations (see related story).
Lines at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport security gates and baggage-check counters moved steadily Tuesday, but there were long waits at the fast-food counters, and empty seats were hard to find in the terminal.
Liz Board of DeKalb, Ill., traveling from O’Hare with her three children, packed extra snacks and hoped her United flight would take off as planned.
“If they botch it up this time, I think that they realize that their name is going to be bad for a long time,” she said.
Riding the Rails
Amtrak officials were bracing for what they expected to be their busiest day of the year — a projected 115,000 passengers Wednesday. The railway company expected 580,000 riders during Thanksgiving week, up from 420,000 in an average week.
Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn said the strong economy seemed to be playing a role: “People who might ordinarily stay home are hitting the rails and roads,” she said.
Greyhound Lines Inc. expected nearly 1 million bus passengers between Wednesday and next Monday, an increase of 100,000 estimated passengers from last Thanksgiving.
“It’s hands down our busiest time of the year,” Greyhound spokeswoman Kristin Parsley said. “And it’s getting even busier.”