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By Rail, Road, Air, the Word of the Day Was Delay

By Steven Ginsberg and Maureen Fan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 25, 2004; Page B07

A cold, steady rain yesterday prolonged the journeys of hundreds of thousands trying to reach friends and family for Thanksgiving.

Flights arrived as much as 90 minutes late at Dulles International Airport. Delays were widespread there and at Reagan National, said Tom Sullivan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Holdups also were common at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where some flights were delayed more than two hours.

Traffic backs up at BWI in a misty rain. Some flights there were delayed for more than two hours. (Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

_____Current Conditions_____
Metro Area Traffic
Local Weather
Video: The rush is on. Travelers are jamming both airports and roadways, trying to get a jump on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Audio: Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, offers some helpful hints to those flying to their Thanksgiving destinations.
Audio: Maryland State Highway Administration officials advise travelers what to expect and offer some helpful tips when hitting the roads in the wet weather.
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Passengers waited as long as an hour in security lines at the airports during the start of a holiday travel season that many in the industry predicted would be the heaviest ever. Others said they arrived hours before their flights to avoid the anxiety of long lines.

Rush hour on the roads began shortly after lunch, and by 3 o'clock there wasn't a single major road heading out of the Washington area that wasn't jammed with shoppers, commuters and holiday travelers.

A fatal accident on Route 1 near Fort Belvoir complicated matters. A mile-long stretch of Route 1 was closed for about two hours in the afternoon, backing up traffic on secondary roads and adding more cars to already-packed Interstate 95.

"On the biggest travel day of the year, adding rain really mucked up the works," said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. He added that "in all my years of going to National Airport at Thanksgiving, this was the first time I saw a long line going through security at 5:45 in the morning."

Anderson and other travel experts said the rain and the crowding persuaded many travelers to wait until today to make their drives, adding to what they already had predicted would be a heavy day on the highways.

Forecasters said Thanksgiving day would be windy with a shower likely and a high in the low 60s.

Yesterday, crowds crammed into Union Station and the city bus terminal, filling extra cars and buses as ridership swelled to nearly double normal levels. Amtrak officials said there were delays on many trains of a half-hour or so.

Sandra Epstein, a Merrill Lynch sales assistant, looked deflated as she surveyed the hundreds-deep line that stood between her and her train. "I'm going to Aberdeen, Maryland, visiting friends," she said. "It's the first time on Thanksgiving. And the last. God, I can't believe it."

Epstein caught her first train in Newport News, Va., at 8:30 a.m., and at 3 p.m., she said she was "exhausted. I just want to sleep. And I want to cry, but I'm not going to."

Across a broad crescent of the Midwest, snowstorms blanketed highways, slowed air travel and cut power. Thunderstorms slowed airlines in the South, and delays reverberated across the East Coast.

In Pennsylvania, toll collectors and other workers on the state's turnpike went on strike early yesterday morning, though travel watchers said traffic flowed fairly well because everyone was allowed to ride free.

Waiting was the order of the day at airports.

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