Thanksgiving travelers will encounter more security this year than ever before, from the airlines to the rails to the roads.
The increased safety procedures at airports since the September 11 terrorist attacks have been well-documented, but Amtrak and the police will be boosting security as well.
While the number of airline passengers is estimated to fall as much as 27 percent from last year, the heightened security at the nation’s airports is expected to cause long lines.
The airlines recommend arriving at the airport two hours before departure three hours for international flights and leaving any sharp objects at home to avoid having them confiscated by screeners.
Washington Dulles International Airport has added a third screening area for the holiday to try to reduce lines. The long Thanksgiving weekend, which starts tomorrow, is traditionally the busiest travel time of the year.
“Ever since the new security measures have been in place, it takes longer to screen passengers,” said Tara Hamilton, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokeswoman. The authority manages Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.
President Bush yesterday signed an aviation-security bill intended to make airlines safer and to alleviate travelers’ concerns about hijackings. A Zogby International poll last week found 51 percent of Americans were nervous about domestic-airline security and one in five were “very nervous.”
At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Southwest Airlines is opening six screening areas instead of its usual four during the holiday.
“We’re expecting a very busy holiday,” said Maryland Aviation Administration spokeswoman Melanie Miller. Costumed entertainers and bands hired recently by the airport administration are supposed to help passengers break the monotony of waiting in line.
While the AAA automobile club estimates a 27 percent drop in airline passengers, the Air Transport Association, the trade group for the industry, projects a more conservative 15 percent to 20 percent decrease.
Thanksgiving travel in general will drop 6 percent from last year because of the slowing economy, AAA said.
A United Airlines spokesman said ticket reservations for the holiday were “relatively good” but did not have figures.
The airlines’ losses are Amtrak’s gains this year. The national passenger railroad is adding 75,000 seats, or 15 percent of its capacity, to holiday trains. Rail travelers from Washington along the Northeast Corridor will need reservations because of the expected higher-than-usual ridership.
Amtrak’s national reservation center is fielding about 100,000 calls per day, Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Van Veen said.
Washington-area train travelers will see more police at Union Station and will be required to show photo identification to purchase a ticket. Amtrak officials recommend arriving one hour before departure to beat any last-minute crowds.
“It is one of our busiest stations,” said Miss Van Veen. “We anticipate bigger crowds in all our big stations, including Washington.”
A record percentage of travelers are expected to drive this year, AAA Mid-Atlantic said. About 86 percent of Washington-area residents traveling 50 miles or more will drive. Last year, 82 percent of Washington’s Thanksgiving travelers drove.
A contributing reason for the increase is lower gasoline prices, said Justin McNaull, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s spokesman.
“It’s certainly one more thing to encourage people to get out and travel this holiday,” Mr. McNaull said.
Gasoline prices fell for the ninth straight week, dropping to a 28-month low of $1.167 a gallon for self-serve, regular unleaded, the Department of Energy reported yesterday.
The price of gasoline has fallen 24 percent since the terrorist attacks to the lowest price since July 1999, according to the department’s survey of about 900 filling stations.
The average is $1.22 per gallon in the Washington area, AAA said.
Last year, both the national and Washington average were $1.54 per gallon.
Law-enforcement officers nationwide started a stepped-up traffic-enforcement campaign on Monday that will continue for a week. More than 10,600 of them will be searching for drunken drivers and ticketing motorists who fail to buckle their children with safety belts or who violate other traffic laws.
Nationally, 497 Thanksgiving travelers died on the roads last year. This year, an estimated 532 travelers will not make it home alive by Sunday night, according to the National Safety Council.
The number of intercity bus travelers is expected to be about the same as last year, but more of them are people who don’t want to fly, according to the American Bus Association.
The trade group based its conclusion on a 10 percent increase in trips greater than 1,000 miles and the fact that one-fifth of the travelers made advance reservations for Thanksgiving holiday travel, which is behavior more characteristic of airline travelers.
“Simply put, the time savings of air travel have been lost on many routes,” said bus association President Peter Pantuso.
Greyhound Lines Inc. is offering a two-for-one discount during the Thanksgiving weekend. Any passenger can have a companion travel for free with a three-day advance purchase, except for travel on Sunday.