Cheap Gas Fueling Expanded Thanksgiving Travel Day
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Low gas prices were driving more people to hit the road to reach their Thanksgiving celebrations, and airports were bustling Wednesday as travelers flying to meet family and friends braved long lines and fears about terrorism.
Nearly 47 million Americans are expected to take a car, plane, bus or train at least 50 miles from home over the long holiday weekend, according to the motoring organization AAA. That's the most travelers since 2007 — an increase of more than 300,000 people over last year.
Among the reasons given for the spike: an improving economy and the cheapest gasoline for this time of year since 2008.
Pat Flynt had recent terror attacks in Tunisia and Paris in mind as he waited to get through a checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for his flight to visit a sick uncle in Baltimore.
"Hopefully there are no issues. That's my main concern," he said Wednesday. "But with what's been going on recently, I don't care how long they take, I just want to be safe."
There have been no changes to the nation's terror alert status, but the recent attacks in Paris, West Africa and elsewhere prompted the State Department to warn American travelers about the risks overseas.
Other travelers took advantage of cheap fuel to get across country for the holiday.
Erin Goff stopped Wednesday morning at a Circle K in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore for a break from her 1,350-mile trek from Lake Panasoffkee, Florida, to Wichita, Kansas. She typically makes the trip every year and hailed the cheaper gas prices.
"It's going to cost about half of what it cost a year ago or two years ago," she said.
Goff said she occasionally flies but decided against it this year because of concerns about a possible terrorist attack.
"Sometimes I fly, and I wanted no part of that," Goff said. "That was out of the question."
Robert Giba was cutting across Arkansas on a trip he has made many times before but will cost him less this year. He refueled his SUV at a Pilot station in suburban Little Rock, where regular gasoline was $1.88 a gallon.
"It's nice. It puts a little extra money in the pocket," he said.
In the West, drivers faced fresh snowfall in California's Sierra Nevada and rain in the San Francisco Bay Area. Travelers heading out on Thanksgiving Day could see 8 inches of snow in the Denver area.
Americans prefer auto travel because it provides more control over expense, trip distance and duration, said Susan Hiltz, AAA spokeswoman in Michigan.
"Auto travel volume tends to be evenly spread out over the five-day holiday, but airports are especially busy on Wednesday and Sunday," she said.
Anyone heading to a major airport should factor in 50 extra minutes on the road, according to the traffic data company INRIX. And that's just getting to the airport — never mind getting through security.
In Atlanta, traveler Fatima Boyd said Transportation Security Administration officers were thorough but friendly.
"I think they're making sure that everybody has safe travels and in great hands and nothing crazy goes on during the holidays," she said. "So that's a plus."
The head of the agency, Peter Neffenger, has assured the public that the TSA is "taking every measure to protect the millions of air travelers in the coming weeks."
Airfares have increased just 69 cents on average since last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies.
– by AP Reporter Christopher Weber