Thousands of Washington area residents are planning trips this week to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. Here is advice on how to get where you are going while keeping your sanity.
Traveling on Highways
The Thanksgiving "rush hour" starts after 2 p.m. Wednesday. Try to leave before then, or wait until early Thursday. Return on a day other than Sunday. If you must come back Sunday, stay off the road between 2 and 7 p.m., the heaviest travel period.
Construction crews generally do not work over the holiday. The Virginia Department of Transportation will lift temporary lane closures in most areas of the state between noon Wednesday and noon Friday.
In case of heavy traffic or an accident, plan an alternative route. Here are two alternatives to Interstate 95 recommended by AAA Mid-Atlantic:
* If heading south, take Interstate 66 west to Interstate 81 south. In southern Virginia, I-81 splits. Take Interstate 77 south through the Charlotte area. From Charlotte, motorists can continue on I-77 or Interstate 85 to other points south, such as Atlanta, Columbia, S.C., Savannah, Ga., and back to I-95.
Although that route adds time, miles and heavy truck traffic on I-81, it is a better choice than a snarled I-95, AAA says. I-81 travelers can call 800-578-4111 or if possible log on to www.TravelShenandoah.com, which supplies current driving and weather conditions.
* If heading north, take Interstate 270 to Frederick. Pick up Route 15 north to Harrisburg, Pa. At Harrisburg, switch to Interstate 81, which provides access to Interstate 78 and Interstate 80 (for eastern Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey) or Interstate 84 and Interstate 88 (for points in the Catskills, Upstate New York, New York State Thruway and much of New England).
If traveling during off-peak times, staying with I-95 north or south should be fine, AAA says.
Gasoline Prices Higher This Year
Drivers will pay more for a gallon of gas this Thanksgiving than a year ago, according to a recent AAA Mid-Atlantic survey:
Washington area average: $1.46 a gallon, compared with $1.22 a gallon last year.
District: $1.52, compared with $1.36 last year.
Virginia: $1.37, compared with $1.09 last year.
Maryland: $1.45, compared with $1.20 last year
The cheapest gas along the East Coast is in Georgia ($1.30), the most expensive in Connecticut ($1.57).
Navigating the Airports
What's new or different at the area's three airports:
* Dulles International Airport has launched "pay and go." Park the car, take the ticket with you and, upon returning, use the "pay and go" machines on the lower level of the terminal and on the pedestrian bridge. The machines accept cash and most major credit cards. The idea is that exiting the airport will be faster because travelers will use "pay and go" express lanes instead of stopping at a cashier booth.
Dulles has opened a new parking garage since last Thanksgiving and has ample economy parking, with free shuttle bus service from parking areas to the terminal. Parking information is 703-572-4500.
* At Reagan National Airport, parking will be tight. Airport officials advise passengers to call ahead to check parking availability, 703-417-7275. Better yet, consider taking public transportation to and from the airport.
* Baltimore-Washington International Airport has added a 1,600-space parking lot and the first 3,000 spaces of a planned 8,800-space lot since last Thanksgiving. Free shuttle service is offered between the parking lots and the terminal.
Airport officials said they have also doubled the amount of security checkpoint lanes since last year and do not anticipate delays this year.
How to Fly Smart
Arrive about 1 1/2 hours before your scheduled departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international flights. Call your airline to reconfirm your flight and check on delays.
The Federal Aviation Administration's Web site, www.fly.faa.gov, is also a good source for news on air traffic delays across the country.
Passengers over 18 need a photo ID; many airlines require a government-issued ID such as a driver's license. Bring a boarding pass, ticket or ticket confirmation, such as a printed itinerary. Children do not need an ID.
Avoid placing metal items such as keys, lighters, phones, pagers, and personal data machines in your pockets. Instead, place metal items in your carry-on baggage until you clear security.
If you do holiday shopping, remember that you can't bring wrapped gifts on a plane.
For complete tips and security procedures, visit the Web site of the new federal Transportation Security Administration, www.tsatraveltips.us.
Traveling by Train
Amtrak officials said they would add 58 trains along the northeast corridor and would add cars on trains that go to Chicago and the West Coast.
Between Tuesday and Dec. 2, Amtrak plans to offer all-reserved service on many trains that normally do not require reservations, including on trains between Washington and Boston.
Between Washington and New York, Amtrak will offer 12 round trips on board its premier Acela Express and Metroliner every day.
Photo identification is required to purchase Amtrak tickets, and all passengers 18 years and older must present a valid driver's license, passport or other similar form of identification to buy a ticket from station agents or to check baggage.
Amtrak officials recommend that passengers arrive at least an hour before departure.
-- Compiled by Diane Mattingly
Sources: SmarterKids, AAA Mid-Atlantic, Virginia Department of Transportation, Maryland State Highway Administration, Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Amtrak, Air Transport Association, Transportation Security Administration and Virginia Cooperative Extension.