- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

CHICAGO | Travelers breezed through airport terminals Wednesday and drivers cruised open roads, the effects of a sour economy blamed for keeping people closer to home at the start of the annual Thanksgiving rush.

Even though gas prices fell and airlines offered last-minute deals, many Americans appeared to be skipping trips this year. San Francisco resident Sharon McKellar called the Miami airport “shockingly quiet” after flying in overnight to visit family members.

At Boston’s Logan International Airport, Alicia Kelly, 47, traveling with her husband and two children to Miami to spend the holidays with her family, said it was the lightest Thanksgiving travel day she has ever seen.

“We have waited in no lines so far,” she said.

The FAA’s flight delay Web site showed no significant holdups at major airports at midday Wednesday. Security lines moved along briskly at under 10 minutes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport.

At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, travelers found parking spots in the front row of the lot and no waiting for check-in and security. The Delta terminal was nearly empty.

“This is crazy. There’s no one here. It’s quieter than on most weekdays,” said Ryan Sullivan, who was flying to New York with his wife and two children.

It was the same in Atlanta, where security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, moved briskly at less than 10 minutes.

At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, travelers found parking spots in the front row of the lot and no wait for check-in and security.

“This is crazy. There’s no one here,” said Ryan Sullivan, who was flying to New York with his wife and two children. “It’s quieter than on most weekdays.”

Tom and Michelle Robinson of Parkton, Md., were at Baltimore’s Penn Station with their two young children waiting for their train to New York City. The train was delayed 30 minutes, but Mr. Robinson said taking the train beats driving. The family plans to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday.

Rehema Wachira, a student at the University of Virginia, said her train trip was so smooth that she arrived in Baltimore early and was waiting for a ride from relatives who live in Bel Air, Md.

At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Eloise Sinclair of Cape Cod, Mass., arrived Wednesday for a visit with her Baltimore relatives. She said the slow economy wasn’t going to prevent the trip, but she is cutting short her usual stay to be back at work Friday.

While most trips were going smoothly, security was a concern in New York City after federal authorities warned law enforcement of a possible terror plot by al Qaeda against the city’s subway and train systems during the holiday season, according to an internal memo obtained by the Associated Press. However, no changes were made to the nation’s threat level.

Nationally, AAA said 41 million Americans were expected to travel more than 50 miles for the holiday, down about 1.5 percent or 600,000 people from last Thanksgiving. It is the first decrease in holiday travel nationally since 2002, and the largest since the Thanksgiving that followed the terror attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

Of those who do leave home, about 4.5 million are expected to fly, down about 7 percent from last year, while around 33.2 million will drive, down about 1 percent.

“The economy is in such bad shape. … They’re still really hesitant to take that trip,” said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA Chicago.

AAA Mid-Atlantic forecast that 765,400 Washington-area residents will travel at least 50 miles from home, down 1.5 percent from last year.

Even though airlines offered last-minute fares in an attempt to get more people in the air, it may take until after the first of the year to know whether it worked, said Graeme Wallace, chief technical officer for farecompare.com, a consumer airline ticket research Web site.

“With the economy tanking, they’re thinking, ‘Do I want to spend $400 for a 1,200-mile trip?’” Mr. Wallace said.

Pierre Charles, 36, a middle school math teacher in Miami Springs, Fla., said that in past years he went to New York to visit his parents. Not this year.

“Traveling is not easy right now,” he said. “This year, I’m staying home. Home, sweet home.”

Still, some were undeterred. Carpenter Michael Layman, 59, left Tampa, Fla., early Tuesday to drive about 1,200 miles home to Clinton Township, Mich., for Thanksgiving with his wife, their two children and four grandchildren. He moved to Florida three years ago because of better work opportunities than he could find in Michigan.

“I’m looking forward to being with my family. I wouldn’t miss Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Mr. Layman said after he stopped to sleep for a few hours in the back of his minivan at an Interstate 75 rest area about 30 miles north of Cincinnati.

He said he was pleased when gas prices began falling a few weeks ago. Mr. Layman said he had been paying about $70 to fill up and now pays less than half that.

“That felt pretty good,” he said.

Cutbacks didn’t deter Donita Hill of Estero, Fla., who was traveling with her husband, Bob, to spend Thanksgiving with their son, a resident at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The couple waited Wednesday to take a train to Worcester, Mass.

“I think sometimes when money is tight, you re-evaluate what’s really important to you, and you realize that it’s really family and friends,” Mrs. Hill said.

“Maybe you cut back on the gifts a little bit, or maybe you don’t have as extravagant a Thanksgiving as you used to,” she said. “Maybe you don’t have a free-range bird, as you’ve had in the past; maybe you go to a Butterball.”

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