Travelers heading to holiday destinations

December 24, 2010 8:25:45 PM PST
Chicago's Union Station was packed with travelers Friday, while roads and airports were not too crowded much of the day.

AAA says there is a 3 percent increase in travel this holiday season. It says nine out of ten travelers will be on the roads.

"I would never try to take the dogs out on a flight so I have to drive if we're going to go at all, so I just decided yesterday to take a chance and go," said traveler Diane Justus.

Some people are just driving to O'Hare, where the terminals saw manageable crowds.

"I'm going to pick up my son that's coming in from Afghanistan for the holidays," said John Harbin. "We're very blessed and happy that he's coming home."

A Delta airlines spokesperson said Friday that 500 weather-related flight cancellations are scheduled for Christmas Day nationwide.

About 300 of the canceled flights are based out of the airline's hub in Atlanta.

92 million Americans will reportedly be traveling 50 miles or more this holiday season.

In Illinois 4.5 million people will be traveling area expressways and tollways, and even though driving is a cheaper option, it can come with hassles too.

"The roads are getting bad - it's starting to snow," said Sarah Bandauski Friday morning. She was en route to Green Bay with her family.

The City of Chicago added 100 salt trucks to the streets Friday evening as snow continued to fall.

Driving can still cost you some Christmas cash. The national average for gas is $3.01 a gallon, which is the highest the price of gasoline has been in three years.

Not all of the news from the roadways was discouraging, however: Illinois Tollway oases will offer free coffee to drivers on the road between 9 p.m. Christmas Eve and 6 a.m. Christmas morning.

At the bustling Union Station in downtown Chicago, Tom and Renee Sawdey were making their first Christmas Eve trip. They were leaving on Amtrak to surprise their daughter, who works in Normal, Illinois.

"We've never not been together on Christmas Eve so we're surprising her going to the hospital where she works and surprise her and drive her home tomorrow," said Renee Sawdey.

Amtrak officials say some trains are sold out. Passenger volume is up, and some trains have had cars added for the holiday travel load.

David Williams missed his train to Michigan tonight because he was watching a movie, but he was still able to buy another ticket.

"Waiting for a train home to see my parents - it's too good of a movie, and I missed my train, so I'll be spending the next six hours here waiting for the next train to Michigan," said Williams.

Chicagoan Nada Stotland, along with her husband and daughter, were embarking on Amtrak Christmas Eve to spend Christmas in San Francisco.

"We have a reservation and we're hopeful," said Stotland. "We were a little worried about the weather in the Rockies. We heard there was some trains delayed and canceled and so on, but we're very optimistic. We love trains."

The Hart family from LaGrange came into Chicago on a crowded Metra train to enjoy Christmas festivities downtown.

"When we came down, it was pretty full," said Paul Hart. "They had to open up another car for us because there was pretty much no place left to sit."

Buses are also filling up. Greyhound officials say they've seen a 40 percent increase in travel leading up to Christmas. Officials were watching how tickets were selling Friday to see if they needed to add any buses.

Eboni Ross started her Greyhound journey in Minnesota with her three kids. They are making six stops and will not make it to New York in time for Christmas Eve.

"That's OK, because you know, they know the true meaning, and as long as we get to see the family that's the most important part," said Eboni Ross.

Katsy Westphal was boarding a Greyhound bus to Indiana Friday evening, and she said she could not wait to get home.

"My brother just passed, and we're trying to make the best for this year, because Christmas was his favorite... looking forward to getting home and being with the kids, doing the meal and the whole nine yards," said Westphal.

A day after the most densely populated parts of the country got a break from the weather, several inches of snow were expected across parts of the heartland. Up to 8 inches could fall in Iowa and 6 inches in Illinois and Minnesota, with forecasters warning drivers about snow-covered roads and limited visibility.

The storm was expected to crawl south into Tennessee on Saturday, delivering a rare white Christmas to Nashville, and then possibly move north on Sunday. Winter weather advisories were in effect from North Dakota into Kentucky.

"People that are going to Grandma's house," warned Bobby Boyd, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Nashville, "need to get going."

Fair weather helped make the holiday sojourn a not-so-painful experience in much of the country Thursday, even with more people on the move than last year.

Eric and Tatiana Chodkowski, of Boston, were driving with their kids, ages 2 and 4, to see relatives in New York. They said forecasts for snow on Sunday made them wonder whether they'd make it back then, as planned. They deemed the roads congested but manageable Thursday, and most people found the nation's airports to be the same way.

Planes took off into windy but accommodating skies at New York's LaGuardia Airport as Steve Kent prepared to fly to Denver for a family ski trip, scoffing at the puny lines.

"I don't find it that difficult," he said. "I think Thanksgiving is harder."

At airports, the long security lines feared over Thanksgiving, when practically everyone is on the move the same day, never materialized, and aren't expected to now. The spread-out nature of the year-end holidays means things won't be quite so cramped.

Travelers may notice that airport screeners are taking a closer look at empty insulated beverage containers like thermoses because air carriers have been alerted about a potential terror tactic involving them, an administration official said.

The official, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters, stressed that there is no intelligence about an active terror plot. The Homeland Security Department regularly alerts law enforcement about evolving terror tactics.

The Air Transport Association expects 44.3 million people on U.S. flights between Dec. 16 and Jan. 5 -- up 3 percent over the same period a year ago but still below pre-recession travel volume. The average ticket price is $421, up by 5 percent.

The Vino Volo Wine Room at Detroit Metropolitan Airport is benefiting from more travelers, manager Mark Del Duco said Thursday.

"The Christmas mood is more there this year than last," he said, estimating that sales are up 10 percent this season compared with last year as financially confident travelers spend more freely.

Mike Lukosavich, of Harrison Township, Mich., was surprised the first leg of his trip was moving so smoothly when he stopped at rest area on the Ohio Turnpike in Elmore, Ohio, near Toledo.

He, his wife and their 8-month-old daughter were heading to see family in Parkersburg, W.Va. His only headache came when he saw the gas price of about $3 a gallon.

"It's something you have to do to see the family," said Lukosavich, 33.

The AAA has expected overall travel to rise about 3 percent this year, with more than 92 million people planning to go more than 50 miles sometime between now and Jan. 2. More than 90 percent said they would be driving.

Maria Romero, a cashier at the Chevron Food Mart just off Interstate 15 in Barstow, Calif., said she has seen an increase in travelers there, especially families and people from out of state.

"It's wonderful. We need it," she said. "The busier, the better."

Some travelers weren't thrilled about their mode of transportation. Anthony Lauro joined nearly 100 people lined up Thursday morning for a Montreal-bound coach at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's bus terminal in midtown Manhattan. He faced an eight-hour ride to see his fiancee there.

"Flying to Canada is astronomically overpriced," he said.

Helping matters is that the most densely populated parts of the country got a break from the weather Thursday with rain finally stopping in California and a few days away in the East.

But predictions of Friday's storm concerned travelers in the Midwest.

Steve Brown, 50, of Elm Creek, Neb., left Tuesday afternoon and drove all night to beat the storm as it worked its way east. Brown, a grain hauler, was taking his two children to see his mother on the Ohio dairy farm where he grew up.

"I had orders to come home or she was going to come get me," Brown said during at the Elmore rest area, where adults filled up on coffee while kids, traveling in pajamas, loaded up on Tater Tots.

After record-breaking snow falls in the East and a treacherous Christmas travel season last year, the ways weather can mess up travel seem to be on plenty of minds.

At LaGuardia, Mike and Martha Lee Mellis waited to fly to Aspen, Colo., with their three young sons. They dreaded a repeat of last winter's ski trip, when a snowstorm hit while they were transferring in Chicago on their way home.

"We had to return via Philadelphia, and I had to rent a car and drive everybody home at 11 at night," Mike Mellis recalled.

His wife had been trying to forget, saying, "I've blocked it all out."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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