A Sour Thanksgiving Recipe: Record Travel, Possible Storm

Passengers check the departure board for their gate at Dulles International Airport. Most flights were on time yesterday, but delays are likely today.
Passengers check the departure board for their gate at Dulles International Airport. Most flights were on time yesterday, but delays are likely today. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
Giving Thanks Elsewhere
SOURCE: AAA | The Washington Post - November 21, 2007
By Jonathan Mummolo and Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving travelers should brace for brutal trips in the air, on highways and on the rails, with record numbers of Washingtonians expected to travel this week and a storm threatening the Midwest today, transportation officials said.

Forecasts of rain Sunday along the Northeast corridor could also mean an exasperating trip home.

The treacherous annual trek got off to a mixed start yesterday. Congestion on area highways was about the same as on a normal weekday, but an afternoon accident on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore closed the highway in both directions for hours. Maryland State Police said the backup was cleared by 5:30 p.m. Last night, the Maryland Department of Transportation reported congestion in the northbound lanes at the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel.

Low clouds delayed air travelers one to two hours in the New York, Chicago and Philadelphia areas.

Any delays at Washington's airports were less than 15 minutes last night, the Federal Aviation Administration reported. But airline delays could become extreme today, with thunderstorms predicted in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys and rain and wind forecast for Chicago and Detroit. Delays at major airline hubs, such as in Chicago, could cause a ripple effect across the country.

Air and road traffic could also become a mess Sunday and Monday morning, when a weather system currently moving north from the Gulf of Mexico is expected to bring more than an inch of rain throughout the Northeast, said Mark Tew, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The local forecast for today and tomorrow is favorable for drivers, with highs around 70 today between Washington and Baltimore and a cold front on Thanksgiving day that will bring just brief showers, Tew said.

Anticipating the Thanksgiving crush, President Bush freed military airspace for commercial airline use during the holiday season. But industry analysts said the change won't alter the fact that the nation's outdated air traffic control system will continue to trigger most airline delays.

"It's appalling," analyst Michael Boyd said. "Military airspace won't fix anything."

Dulles International and Reagan National airports expect a combined 1.5 million passengers from last Friday to Monday, said Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokesman Rob Yingling. Officials at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport said they expect nearly a half-million travelers during the holiday week.

The busiest times at airports will be early mornings and late afternoons. Passengers should arrive at least two hours before flight departure, airport officials said.

In the Washington region, a record 691,200 people -- about 14.4 percent of the population -- will travel 50 miles or more this week, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic figures. That's about 15,000 more than last year.

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