Thursday's Thanksgiving Day holiday has millions of Americans taking to the roads, rails and skies to visit family and friends. Airports are expected to be busier than they were last year, thanks to increased security and lower air fares.
The busiest airport in the United States is Chicago's massive O'Hare Airport, but on Wednesday morning, city officials said everything seemed to be running normally. Nearly 1.5 million people will pass through O'Hare and the city's smaller Midway airports between now and Sunday night. Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Monique Bond expects Sunday to be the busiest travel day of the weekend. "Some coming back on Sunday, some on Saturday and others on Monday," she said. "There is a spread out, but we do know that a lot of people are coming back on Sunday."
The U.S. travel group, AAA, expects about six percent more people to fly for Thanksgiving this year than last year. The lowest airfares in 20 years seem to be part of the reason. Also, there seem to be fewer worries about security than there were last Thanksgiving, which came about 10 weeks after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
This is the first major holiday in which passenger security is being handled by the federal Transportation Security Authority. It was reporting waits of 10 minutes or less at most big airport security checkpoints.
In Chicago, TSA spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan advised passengers on getting through the checkpoints quickly. "I am a walking example of what not to do," he said. "I have a pager, a cell phone, I have change in my pocket, a lot of metal on and I have steel-shank shoes. I am going to set that alarm off when I go through the checkpoint."
While airplanes might seem more full this Thanksgiving, there are still fewer planes in the air. The airline industry has still not fully recovered from the severe drop in passengers after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Chicago-based United Airlines has 25 percent fewer flights now than it did before the attacks. The world's largest airline, American, has 11 percent fewer flights and says it might have to cut even more next year.
No matter how Americans travel this Thanksgiving, some will be slowed by bad weather. Storms in the Northeast part of the country could bring up to 15 centimeters of snow to some areas.