Outlook for pre-holiday fliers: More elbow room, few delays

The days leading up to Thanksgiving are typically among the busiest air travel days of the year. Travelers spoke about their experiences so far and gave travel tips to other locals on the decently quiet day at Reagan National Airport.
By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Tuesday and Wednesday leading up to Thanksgiving are typically among the busiest air travel days of the year, but local officials say a combination of fewer travelers and mild weather should mean no major delays at area airports this week.

"Things are tracking well," said Robert Yingling, a spokesman for Dulles International and Reagan National airports. The two airports and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport reported Monday that they had plenty of open parking spaces.

Dave Houk, senior forecaster at Accuweather.com, pointed to a developing storm that could bring snow in parts of Pennsylvania and Upstate New York, but he said it did not appear likely that the system will have a major impact on air service at New York's larger airports. In the D.C. area, Houk predicted drizzle and low cloud cover over coming days and strong winds later in the week, conditions that can lead to flight delays.

Most of the nation's airports are not expected to be especially crowded this year. In the Washington region, the number of people traveling by air is expected to be down 5.5 percent compared with a year ago, according to AAA. Passenger air travel at Dulles and National is expected to be about even with last year, airport officials said.

Bucking the trend, BWI, which caters to low-fare carriers including AirTran and Southwest Airlines, expects 8 percent more holiday travelers this year compared with a year ago, said Jonathan Dean, a BWI spokesman. BWI is offering travelers free wireless Internet access through Jan. 15, a promotion sponsored partly by Google. Dulles and National have wireless access, but it isn't free.

BWI is urging travelers to be in the terminal 90 minutes before domestic flights and two hours prior to international flights. At Dulles and Reagan, airport officials say, travelers should arrive two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights.

Security check-in headaches at Dulles should be eased this year. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority opened a new underground level in September that is dedicated to passenger screening in the main terminal. Dulles also has renovated and expanded the arrivals processing area for international travelers.

Airport officials also urge people to check airline Web sites, print boarding passes before they leave home and attach identification labels to bags and laptops.

Up-to-date parking information is available on the airport authority's Web site at http://www.mwaa.com or by calling 703-417-PARK for National and 703-572-4500 for Dulles. For BWI, call 800-I-FLY-BWI (800-435-9294).

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