Turkey Day travel conditions: Philly rail and air passengers off to a good start

November 21, 2018 - 7:28 am
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UPDATED: 10 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — There were are lot of people passing through Philadelphia International Airport in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving.

Airport officials expect to see over 650,000 travelers this week.

A passenger named Gina said her parents' house is in Chicago, where she is headed for the big meal.

"Every year. Yes," she said. "It's great to be with family and friends and see everyone and have a great time."

The hustle and bustle is kicked up a few notches for Thanksgiving travel, and Ellen, a teacher from Philadelphia traveling to San Francisco, was hopeful it would be smooth sailing.

"I just hope this security line is not super, super terrible today. But I'm being optimistic," she said.

She said she's looking forward to hanging out with her nieces and nephews. "It’s fun to see what they’re interested in.” 

Nearly all flights out of PHL airport are on time at the moment.
Tim Jimenez/KYW Newsradio

Also heading to San Francisco is Sara, her husband and kids. They don't have relatives there, but Sara says they have plenty to see and experience as a family.

"Want to do the sights, like Alcatraz, see the Golden Gate Bridge, and just enjoy, hopefully better weather than Philly is having the next few days," she said.

Federal Security Director of TSA in Philadelphia Gary Renfrow says K-9 units at the busiest terminals have led to quickly moving lines at security checkpoints.

"The explosive K-9s are an added level of security, and they allow us to actually expedite screening for passengers," Renfrow said. "So it’s actually better security, faster if you will. In doing that (travelers) can leave their jackets on, they can leave their shoes on, their belts on and leave their laptops in their bags.”

If passengers have any ideas about carrying Thanksgiving food items on board, he has some guidelines.

“Three-point-four ounces of gravy!" Renfrow said. "And if you have large food items, I recommend you divest them out of your bag. It just makes the screening process go faster."

Looking at a longer, 12-day period, the airline industry trade group Airlines for America predicts that a record 30.6 million people will fly on U.S. carriers, up from 29 million last year. That's more than 2.5 million per day.

The airline group expects that Wednesday will be the second-busiest day of the holiday period behind only Sunday, when many travelers will be returning home.

Travelers should prepare for long lines at airport checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration expected to screen about 25 million people between Monday and next Monday, an increase of 5 percent over last year.

The airline group's numbers are bigger because its forecast covers an extra day and it counts connecting passengers again, while TSA only counts those people once when they pass the checkpoint.

TSA says the holiday rush really started last Friday — similar to last year but earlier than in previous years. The Sunday following Thanksgiving is expected to be one of TSA's 10 busiest days ever.

Riding the rails

At 30th Street Station, the scene was much calmer early on, but volume picked up steadily through the morning.

Amtrak officials say the rail system saw over 770,000 travelers last year on the day before Thanksgiving, and 90,000 of those passengers, about 11 percent, came though 30th Street Station.

There are plenty of reasons why rail travel remains popular. 

Traveler Carlee Nickel, on her way to be with family in Baltimore, said, "It's a simple ride. You can read a book. I usually try not to fall asleep, because I'm afraid I'll miss my stop. But other than that, it's just easy."

And she's got a pretty big family waiting for her when she gets home.

"My dad's side is about 60-plus members, all cramped up in a house, around a turkey. So, that's always fun," she said.

Nickel says she's going to try to avoid the return trip rush by coming home on Saturday instead of Sunday, which is another busy day for travel.

One passenger waiting for her train noted some of the advantages of rail travel over air travel: ample legroom, free wifi, and no middle seat.

Around the country

Early Thanksgiving travelers who hit the road on Tuesday had favorable weather in most of the U.S. However, flight delays piled up at airports around the country by day's end.

Wet and frigid forecasts threaten to make driving more challenging in the next day or two.

By late Tuesday afternoon, a low number of domestic flights had been cancelled — fewer than 150 — but 3,000 flights were delayed, according to tracking service FlightAware.

The largest number of delays — about 400 — was at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where dense fog slowed the pace of departures and arrivals. Flights going to Boston and Newark, New Jersey, were also more likely to be delayed, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. So were flights to San Francisco, where visibility has been reduced due to smoke from the wildfire in Paradise, California.

Driving was difficult in parts of New England. The remnants of a recent snowstorm left messy road conditions across much of the region, and the forecast called for more snow on Wednesday followed by blustery winds and high temperatures in the teens on Thanksgiving Day in northern New England.

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The AAA auto club predicts that 54.3 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home between Wednesday and Sunday, the highest number since 2005 and about a 5 percent increase over last year. AAA says 48 million will drive and 4.7 million will fly.

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KYW Newsradio's Tim Jimenez and Dan Wing, and the Associated Press, contributed to this report.