Turkey Day Traffic Forecast

Reluctant to spend extra money, many Americans are hunkering down this week for Thanksgiving, whether scaling back the feast, avoiding Friday sales or trimming their travel budgets.

Still, those who do decide to leave town should not expect empty airports and roadways.

"Despite the expected decline in passengers this Thanksgiving holiday travel season -- the first such decline in seven years -- Thanksgiving remains the busiest travel time of the year for airlines," James C. May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, said in a statement last week.

In the Skies: The Air Transport Association projects planes will be about 90 percent full Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

They'll be so packed because the airlines, like travelers themselves, have already taken a financial hit. Crippled by high fuel prices this summer, airlines pared down by taking planes out of the skies and eliminating some routes entirely to save money. That means fewer available seats and fuller planes.

"They traded a fuel crisis for an economic crisis, and if they hadn't cut seats out of the system, they'd be scrambling to do so right now," Rick Seaney, CEO of the travel Web site FareCompare.com, and an ABC News columnist, said last week.

Airlines have also offered travelers steep, last-minute sales in another attempt to bring in more business.

In turn, Seaney said, parents who may have decided six weeks ago that spending $400 to $600 to fly their child home from college was too pricey, may have revisited the issue when the price dropped to $200 to $400 dollars.

"It's really dropped dramatically for a lot of people, and they're really trying to get those people off the fence that basically thought they couldn't travel for the holidays," he said.

"Normally, procrastinators get hurt in these situations, but this year, the procrastinators are going to be rewarded."

On the Roads and Rails: Gas prices are down but slightly fewer people will travel the nation's roads and highways this Thanksgiving than last year. Still, AAA estimates about 41 million Americans on the roads traveling 50 miles or more this holiday. That's a 1.4 percent decrease from last year.

"The lower priced gasoline may persuade some who weren't inclined to travel to change their minds," Kevin Bakewell, senior vice president of AAA Auto Club South, said in a statement.

Amtrak also said it expects 128,000 travelers Wednesday alone -- a 65 percent increase from a typical Wednesday. Last year, Amtrak transported 665,000 people between the Tuesday before Thanksgiving through the following Monday.

Train travelers this week can also plan to keep eating along the way. Last year, 7.5 tons of turkey, 22,000 servings of cranberry sauce and 22,000 slices of pumpkin pie were served on Amtrak's long rides during the week of Thanksgiving.

Holiday Travel Gifts From Uncle Sam

The government, too, is prepared for a busy week. Federal transportation leaders opened three new runways Thursday -- one at Washington Dulles, one at Chicago O'Hare and one at Seattle-Tacoma -- just in time for a potential holiday rush.

"The new runways will help passengers by increasing capacity and decreasing congestion and delays at those airports," said Greg Principato, president of Airports Council International -- North America.

Also, President Bush appeared at the Transportation Department to announce the government will open military airspace this week to create additional highways in the sky. Officials often open those routes on busy holidays to ease congestion.

Bush called it a move to "expand the Thanksgiving express lanes."

Not everyone applauded the plan, with the International Air Transport Association suggesting the government's effort masks far bigger problems.

"President Bush's plan to solve the congestion problem by opening some military air space for only a few days during a national holiday is a political placebo for a serious illness," Steve Lott, spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, said in a statement from the group.

The Air Transport Association, which represents U.S. airlines, agreed that the plan is no substitute for modernizing the air traffic control system, but that it can't hurt.

"It's a significant aid," ATA's executive vice president and chief operating officer John Meenan told ABC News. "It's something that provides some flexibility that wouldn't otherwise be available. Particularly in a weather situation, it can often be a relief that we wouldn't otherwise be able to take advantage of."

Tips for Travelers

Travel industry experts encouraged travelers to take the following steps to help travel days go smoothly:

Sign up for airlines' automated travel updates to get messages about delays on cell phones or Blackberries.

Be ready for airport security. Expect to remove your shoes and bulky winter coats. Don't wrap presents. Remember TSA's rule for carry-ons; use containers that are 3 ounces or less for liquids and pack them in one clear-plastic, zipper-lock bag.

Avoid driving home late at night, especially after a big turkey dinner. Tryptophan in turkey can make you sleepy, and if you've had any alcohol, stay put.

Arrive early for flights and trains. Amtrak advises getting to train stations 45 minutes early.