- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

Washington-area residents can expect to stand in long lines at airports or sit in traffic jams on major highways this week as hundreds of thousands head out of town for Thanksgiving.

An estimated 676,000 local residents plan to travel at least 50 miles from their homes this week to celebrate the holiday. Also, nearly 30,000 out-of-towners are scheduled to fly into Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports on Wednesday to visit their family and friends.

Local road officials said yesterday they are worried that rainy weather on Wednesday and early Thursday could cause delays. The National Weather Service predicts a 50 percent chance of rain on Wednesday, which is considered one of the busiest travel days of the year.

“Rain ratchets up the number of crashes,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “There could be pandemonium on the highways.”

AAA and District-based Travel Industry Association of America predict that 4.6 million Americans will fly to their Thanksgiving destinations this week. That is 12 percent of all travelers for the holiday and 4 percent more than last year.

Most will fly out Wednesday and return home Sunday. AAA advises travelers to leave tomorrow and come back next Monday.

Pam Phillips, of Appleton, Wis., who arrived in Washington with her husband and two sons yesterday, said she was looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with her family in Winchester, Va., and had not thought about a delay Sunday when they are scheduled to fly back on Midwest Airlines to Milwaukee.

Reagan and Dulles already have 29,679 reserved passengers scheduled to arrive Wednesday, compared with 20,115 travelers who arrived at the two Washington-area airports yesterday.

“This year we will experience noticeable increases in both air and auto travel in the Washington area,” said John Townsend II, manager of public and government relations for AAA. “It is apparent both the nation and the region are overcoming the fear factor and finally regaining its pre-September 11 confidence level in traveling by land and by air. All of this means it will push travel volume above pre-9/11 levels for the first time since that horrible day.”

Many workers at Reagan Airport yesterday were getting ready for the influx.

“It hasn’t been very busy today,” said Bill McLaughlin, 69, a volunteer tending an information desk inside the terminal. “But Thanksgiving is a few days away.”

Yesterday, travelers did not report any problems or delays getting through security checkpoints, which have been in place since September 11. This fall, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) implemented new security procedures, including the expanded use of manual pat-down searches. That means many passengers will be asked to take off coats, blazers and sweaters at the checkpoints before they can board their flights.

“Actually, the line is not as long as I thought,” said Victor Torres, 40, who yesterday was returning to Fresno, Calif., after spending four days at a higher-education meeting in the District.

A long line backed up from the security checkpoint at the American Airlines and US Airways terminals. The Lindenmayers of Ellicott City, Md., were among several families who were waiting. They were on their way to catch a flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“We’re not going for Thanksgiving,” said Marty Lindenmayer, accompanied by his wife and two daughters. “We’re going to meet my six brothers and sisters. We’re going for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.”

The Lindenmayers will return several days after Thanksgiving — missing the holiday rush to get back home.

Airport officials ask travelers to check in 2 hours before a domestic flight if traveling tomorrow and Wednesday, and Sunday and next Monday.

Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport asks passengers to check in 90 minutes before the scheduled flight departure time.

Road officials ask motorists to use the EZ Pass, a device that expedites trips through toll booths.

Those traveling by train tomorrow through next Monday must book tickets in advance for nearly all trains traversing the Northeast corridor.

Passengers should bring photo identification.

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