WASHINGTON – Airport spokesman Tom Sullivan concedes that an increase in the number of Thanksgiving travelers this year “could be a little bit of a challenge for the people flying.”
But fliers won’t be alone. Officials are predicting increases on the roads and rails as well in the Thanksgiving travel season that some said got underway in earnest this weekend.
The Maryland Transportation Authority expects a 3 percent rise in traffic over last year and Baltimore/Washington International Airport looks for an 8 percent increase. Amtrak officials could not provide numbers, but said they expect heavy ridership to continue after a record-setting year.
About 635,000 motorists will take to Maryland roads between Wednesday and the Sunday after Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association.
“Our roads are certainly getting busier whether it’s Thanksgiving or any other time of the year,” said John White, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The region’s three airports are also busier, with bookings picking up after a post-Sept. 11 lull. BWI expects 640,000 passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period, which it said began Friday and continues through the Monday after Thanksgiving.
“Over the past number of months, passenger levels at BWI have risen consistently,” said airport spokesman Jonathan Dean.
Reagan National and Washington Dulles International airports are expecting around 1 million passengers, said Sullivan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
“It’s great news for the airlines,” Sullivan said. “It could be a little bit of a challenge for the people flying.”
While Thanksgiving travel is heavy for 11 days, Sullivan said the peak flying days are the Sunday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and especially the Sunday after.
“Pretty much everybody seems to return on that Sunday after Thanksgiving,” Sullivan said.
Because of the traffic, Sullivan said passengers are being encouraged to arrive two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. He said the Transportation Security Administration has hired part-time screeners to help out, but that there “may be some peaks and valleys in that time frame where security screening gets a little bit longer.”
The TSA is also asking passengers to place all metal items — including jewelry — in a carry-on bag while waiting in line, take laptops out of their cases and remove coats to expedite the screening process.
Even with an increase in air travel, Amtrak officials expect a high number of passengers this holiday. Thanksgiving is Amtrak’s busiest week of the year, said spokesman Dan Stessel, and the rail agency expects full or nearly full trains.
Amtrak has added 40,000 extra seats on trains in the Northeast, but is still advising passengers to make reservations. Stessel advises that morning trains are not as busy as afternoon and evening trains.
He said Amtrak’s heaviest ridership period is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving through the Monday after, with a peak on that Sunday.
“We have noticed a trend where people are starting to spread out their travel a little more, but it still doesn’t offset the crush of people trying to get back on Sunday,” Stessel said.