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"Holiday travel forecast calls for long delays in the air, on the ground"


 
Friday, July 1, 2005

Holiday travel forecast calls for long delays in the air, on the ground
Start early, stay patient
By Dan Fitzpatrick and Mark Belko
The Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette


Ray Mann plans to hop in the car and drive seven hours Saturday to see his
daughter in Holland, Mich. He already is bracing for the crush of
holiday-weekend traffic.

I expect the road to be very busy," said Mann, who lives in Moon.

The busiest ever, it turns out.

Despite higher gas prices and air fares, more than 40 million Americans
intend to travel at least 50 miles from home starting tomorrow and ending
Tuesday, the most highly traveled Fourth of July holiday weekend ever and
the second-busiest holiday of the year after Christmas, according to the
American Automobile Association.

It may end up being one of the most frustrating travel weekends of the year,
too. Coupled with the higher prices at the pump and the airline ticket
counter will be a rash of delay-inducing road construction projects, more
highway police, longer waits in airport security lines and, in much of the
country, searing summer heat.

>From the airport to the road, transportation officials are urging travelers
to be patient and leave themselves plenty of time to avoid delays.

"Airports will be busy, planes will be crowded and summer storms are always
possible," said travel expert Terry Trippler, of Cheapseats.com. "To keep
hassles to a minimum, get to the airport early."

Trippler recommends that passengers arrive at least two hours ahead of their
flight, and two and half hours at larger airports. "No one ever missed a
flight because they got to the airport too early," he said.

More than 4.5 million people will use airplanes this weekend, up 4.2 percent
from last year. As a result, federal security officials are warning
passengers that waits to pass through security will be longer than normal,
especially tomorrow, Saturday and Tuesday.

The lines at Pittsburgh International have lengthened in the last few
months, coinciding with a 10 percent increase in local traffic and a
restricted security bottleneck at the airport's Landside terminal.

To save time, said Jack Evans of the Washington, D.C.-based Air Transport
Association, travelers can print out boarding passes on their home computers
before arriving at the airport, saving a step.

Also, travelers should dress more lightly, saving themselves time in the
security line. "People are leaving belts in the suitcase and wearing slip-on
shoes," he said. "Make sure when you go to the airport that you do not have
to shed a lot of clothing to get through security."

The TSA also recommends that travelers be prepared to remove their shoes or
footwear before they get to the checkpoint. If you're uncomfortable walking
through the checkpoint bare foot, slip socks into your carry-on for easy
access. Other tips and a list of items banned from carry-ons and luggage are
available at www.tsa.gov.

"Anything passengers can do to prepare themselves for screening is going to
make for a more pleasant trip," said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis.

The TSA is expecting about 12,500 people to go through the checkpoint today,
which is about average for a weekday.

It did not have numbers for tomorrow or Saturday, but the weekend will be
busy, according to airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny, but not "anything out of
the ordinary."

"I think a lot of people will be flying but I also think the system is
capable of handling it," she said. "We're prepared to deal with anything
that happens here in Pittsburgh."

Similar caution and preparation are being urged for the road -- where most
people will be this weekend.

Of the more than 40 million expected travelers, almost 34 million will use a
car while traveling to oceans, beaches, lakes, mountains and parks. The
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said it is suspending work on
certain highway projects over the holiday in Bridgeville, Cranberry and
other places, meaning fewer lane restrictions.

The average price per gallon of self-serve gas in Western Pennsylvania is
around $2.20, near a record-high of $2.21 set in April, according to AAA.
Thus, a 500-mile trip this weekend at 25 miles per hour will cost you $44.
Two years ago, the same trip would have cost $30.

Despite the gas expense, travelers show no signs of being deterred by the
increases, though just to be sure, some resort towns are offering a free
tank of gas to bring in visitors.

California's Big Bear Lake is offering $25 voucher, the town of Bethel, Me,.
is giving away $20 and Aspen, Colo., is offering vouchers of $50. In West
Virginia, visitors to Snowshoe Mountain who booked a trip by June 22 will
get $25.

Along with gas, the cost of an airline ticket, while still historically low,
is creeping up, as well.

Northwest Airlines yesterday said it is tacking another $50 on top of price
hikes of 1 percent to 4 percent last week at most major airlines, including
US Airways, which increased first-class fares to the Caribbean as a response
to rising oil prices.

For Mann, the Moon resident visiting his daughter this weekend, the price of
flying is no longer worth it.

Leaving at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, he realizes that he is departing at
"probably the worst possible time." But he refuses to fly, even if the fare
were free. "I'm in my car and I'm in control," he said.

"I don't have that control with flying."

The lines at Pittsburgh International have lengthened in the last few
months, coinciding with a 10 percent increase in local traffic and a
restricted security bottleneck at the airport's Landside terminal.


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