Thanksgiving is a time to share special moments with family — if you can get there, that is.
A record 38.9 million Americans — 4 percent more than last year — planned to travel at least 100 miles from home for the holiday, according to the American Automobile Association. Of those, 31.6 million will go by car, and another 7.3 million will travel by airplane, train or bus, based on a survey of 1,300 people.
“We’ve got all these people out here traveling, trying to get home to friends and relatives, it’s gonna be incredibly busy, said Pam Fischer of the American Automobile Association. “Also anywhere where there is normal congestion, expect it to be much worse over the next 12 to 15 hours.”
At Chicago’s Midway Airport, long lines formed at ticket counters, bathrooms and security checkpoints when the sun was barely up. For Matt and Sarah Niess, a trip to see family in Boston was quickly becoming a disaster.
The Niesses’ flight from San Francisco was an hour late taking off, which made them miss their connection at Midway to Boston. They had to take an hour shuttle-bus ride to O’Hare International Airport for another connection — but first they had to find their luggage.
“Everyone’s taking a trip for Thanksgiving,” said Ron Wilson a spokesman for the San Francisco International Airport. “The day before the holiday is usually the single busiest travel day of the year.”
Wilson said that at the San Francisco airport, extra plain-clothes police and traffic officers will be patrolling the premises.
Travel By Land
Some travelers opted to stay away from airports altogether and go by car or train, which didn’t guarantee an easier trip.
Andrea and Alfred Armstrong were taking Amtrak from Philadelphia to Stafford, Va., struggling with their 7-year-old daughter, 6-month-old son, four suitcases and a stroller.
“It is going to be very difficult for us, but it’s worse for my husband because he has to carry everything,” said Andrea Armstrong, who is three months pregnant. “I will have to take the kids and get on the train as fast as possible to find us seats.”
Amtrak added 65,000 additional seats nationwide to keep up with the 580,000 passengers expected to travel by train this week, a 10 percent increase over this time last year. Greyhound Lines Inc., which carried about 900,000 passengers nationwide during Thanksgiving week last year, expected to carry close to a million this year.
Outside the Rochester, N.Y., bus terminal, the wait was a little tense for Charles Farrar, who was heading for Buffalo to see his grandmother. He hadn’t seen her since they had “a falling-out” over a loan she didn’t pay him back three years ago.
“It’s kind of like a homecoming,” he said.
For the majority of travelers — four out of five — their own cars were the best way to go, despite highway gridlock and gas prices up more than 25 cents a gallon from a year ago.
Of course, the millions of travelers leaving home today eventually have to return — and most of them will be doing that Sunday. The Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, estimates that will be the busiest day in U.S. airline history, with 2.24 million passengers.
ABCNEWS Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.