- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

Travelers can expect longer delays on the roads and at the airports this year as more Americans head out of town for Thanksgiving.

More people are booking flights as the economy picks up. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the agency in charge of airport security, is using fewer full-time screeners to handle security.

This year, TSA has cut 6,000 screener jobs, or 11 percent of the 55,600 positions, to meet Congress’ demand for staff levels that fit airports’ screening needs.

But with air traffic picking up for the holidays, TSA has warned travelers to add another hour to navigate through security checkpoints, especially tomorrow and Sunday.

Passengers flying out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport are advised to arrive two hours before their flights to wade through check-in and security lines.

On the roads, more motorists will drive on Thanksgiving Day than tomorrow, traditionally the busiest travel day of the year, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.

The busiest flying days at those airports will be today, tomorrow, Thursday, Sunday and Monday, said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates the airports.

On a typical day, 70,000 people fly out of Reagan and Dulles airports. About 107,000 passengers are expected to fly tomorrow and 106,000 on Sunday, Ms. Hamilton said.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport has added four security check lanes to expedite the baggage process, but spokesman Jonathan Dean said travelers should budget extra time to find parking and navigate through terminals still under construction.

The airport forecasts 70,000 people will travel through the airport tomorrow and 73,000 on Sunday, Mr. Dean said.

TSA is adding part-time staffers at 117 of the nation’s 429 commercial airports to handle the holiday crowds, said spokeswoman Amy Von Walter.

The agency also canceled holiday leave for screeners and required some to pull shifts longer than eight hours during busier times.

The agency plans to hire permanently 150 new part-time screeners in the three Washington-area airports.

About 36 million Americans will travel during Thanksgiving week, with 31 million, or 86 percent, driving to their destinations, according to a report by auto club AAA and the Travel Industry Association of America.

Although more traffic is expected on Thanksgiving, congestion will hit Washington commuters hardest tomorrow because of the mix of last-minute grocery shoppers and travelers, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson.

“Wednesday has the potential to be a very tough afternoon for the normal commuter,” Mr. Anderson said.

About 578,000 local motorists will drive 50 miles or more during the holiday week, the report said.

Drivers also should expect clogged lanes coming back into Washington on Sunday afternoon and evening, especially because there is a 4 p.m. home Redskins game at FedEx Field in Largo, Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Anderson has advised motorists to drive outside the Capital Beltway before filling up gas tanks. Gasoline prices have been dropping nationwide for the last month, but average prices in Washington are still higher on average than in neighboring areas.

The Washington-area price for a gallon of gasoline was $1.52 yesterday, up 8 cents from $1.44 a year ago.

Amtrak also is anticipating full passenger trains through Monday, primarily tomorrow, when it plans to have 300,000 passengers. The national rail service added 40,000 seats, or 70 trains, including 31 Acela Express trains, between Washington, New York and Boston.

“More people find it convenient to take a connecting train to a major northeastern city because they avoid long security lines and taxi rides,” said Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel.

Passengers should arrive at the station 30 minutes before boarding and add another half an hour if they are checking baggage or buying tickets, which must be reserved ahead of time this week.

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