- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

About a half-million Washington-area residents headed out on the roads, rails and airways yesterday for Thanksgiving, most enduring no more than the routine inconveniences that accompany travel.
This year, travel was helped by a forecast winter storm that never occurred, which prompted many to leave town before yesterday, traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year.
"The storm that was forecast but didn't show up was great for auto travelers in spreading out their travel times," said Justin McNaull, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman. "A lot of people left on Tuesday evening based on the forecast, which has made Wednesday better than expected."
The number of travelers from the Washington area mirrors a national trend, AAA reported. About 564,000 local residents are traveling more than 50 miles from their homes this Thanksgiving, a 2 percent increase over last year. Air travel was expected to increase 6 percent to about 80,000 people.
Air travel was smooth for passengers at the Washington area's three major airports yesterday, assuming they could make it through congested roads to the airports and find a parking place.
The scarcity of what airlines call "the hassle factor" suggests the Transportation Security Administration passed its first big test with flying colors as it deployed its work force of screeners, which became completely federalized Nov. 19.
"We're not seeing long lines," said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports. "There are more screeners handling passengers now than a year ago today."
The number of passengers was nearly as heavy Monday and Tuesday as it was yesterday, rather than being bunched up on the day before Thanksgiving, Miss Hamilton said.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport handled about 75,000 passengers, a 12 percent increase from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving last year.
Officials estimate the airport handled 49,000 passengers Monday and 73,000 Tuesday. On a typical day in November, the airport handles between 50,000 and 55,000 people, spokesman John White said.
BWI became the first in the nation to have federal screeners in May. Yesterday, several passengers said they made things more efficient.
"This has been as good as it gets here. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit," said John Marrapese, a McLean resident who was traveling with his wife and two young children to New Hampshire.
The family arrived at the airport about 90 minutes early yesterday for a 3:30 p.m. flight. Mr. Marrapese said they experienced no hassles at the ticket counter or security checkpoint.
"We use this airport every year, and this is a hundred times better than what it has been in the past," he said.
Passengers at other airports also reported being pleasantly surprised.
"Every time I travel home for Thanksgiving, it's a mob scene," said Sarah Houlihan, a Georgetown University senior traveling home to Hartford, Conn., from Reagan Airport. "I'm pretty surprised to see it so calm."
The Transportation Security Administration appears to have fulfilled its pledge to hold passengers at security checkpoints no more than 10 minutes on average.
Most passengers said it took between three and five minutes to move through the check-in and security lines in the morning. As business picked up in the afternoon, passengers said the process took no more than 15 minutes.
Eateries at area airports reported brisk business. "We have a lot of customers today," said Elene D'Maria, a cashier at Auntie Anne's pretzel shop at Reagan Airport.
Amtrak officials yesterday estimated the rail service would carry about 545,000 more riders during the seven days from Tuesday through Monday. About 311,000 of those passengers will board trains shuttling through the Northeast corridor from Washington to Boston.
Some passengers said their concern about long lines at airports made them choose Amtrak instead.
"The afternoon trains are selling out, even with the additional capacity," Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said.
Amtrak will run 58 more trains in the Northeast corridor through Monday to accommodate the increase in riders. It also is adding more cars on regularly scheduled routes.
Security was tighter than on a typical day. Amtrak added police officers to bolster security at Union Station, and bomb-sniffing dogs were making the rounds.
Despite tightened security, lines of passengers seemed to move quickly. In another move to boost security, Amtrak is requiring passengers to reserve seats on all trains before traveling this week, and people must show photo identification before boarding trains.
The longer lines didn't bother Michael Connely, who sat near Gate E filling out paperwork and waiting for his first train ride.
"In my opinion, the lines are pretty short," said Mr. Connely, a Marine based at Quantico,Va., who was heading home to Boston.
Still, he arrived four hours before his 3 p.m. train was scheduled to depart.
The crush of holiday travelers wasn't helping Executive Shoe Shine, where few customers stopped by early yesterday near the Amtrak waiting area.
"During the holidays, there are always a lot of people here, but not a lot of business because everyone is worried about catching their train," said shoeshiner Michael Vincent.
On the highways, both Maryland and Virginia will increase patrols through the weekend, especially Sunday, which along with yesterday is one of the biggest driving days.
AAA said the National Safety Council estimates 575 persons nationwide will be killed during the holiday weekend. Almost half of those deaths will involve alcohol.
Bill Glanz and Henry Brier contributed to this report.


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