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Thanksgiving Holiday Travelers Likely To Face Travel Challenges


If you're traveling for the holiday, maybe you're heading out of town tomorrow, even today, thinking you're going to be clever, beat the holiday traffic. You might find out that a lot of other folks have the same idea. NPR's David Schaper reports on just how many people will be on the roads.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: To give you an idea of just how busy the roads are going to be this week, cars are already backed up here outside of the service bays at this car dealership in Chicago's northern suburbs, waiting for an available mechanic because before they can hit the road, these cars have to be road-ready.

RAY EICHENLAUB: We do see the panic drop in. I need it done.

SCHAPER: Ray Eichenlaub is the service director at Evanston Subaru, and he says many of his customers this week are those who have put off servicing their cars.

EICHENLAUB: Oh, basic maintenance - yeah, you know, the stuff that we should think about all the time - oil changes, tire rotations, the filters. Oh, by the way, I need brakes done. Or, oh, by the way, my tires have been bald for a while, and I need them now.

SCHAPER: Drivers are going to want their vehicles to be in tip-top shape because this year's Thanksgiving road trip may take a lot longer.

JEANETTE CASSELANO: Thanksgiving is going to be a record breaker in terms of travel volume this year.

SCHAPER: That's AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano, who says 51 million people will be on the move between Wednesday and Sunday, and more than 90 percent of them will be traveling on the roads. Gas prices across the country are on average more than 40 cents higher than they were this time a year ago. But Casselano says that's not curbing demand, and she says some of the worst traffic jams will hit around rush hour today.

CASSELANO: No, I think we're seeing people trying to get out of town a little bit earlier to beat the traffic, which may be helpful. But it's still - if everyone has that idea, we're still going to see a lot of traffic.

SCHAPER: There'll be serious congestion inside airport terminals, too, as 28.5 million Americans are expected to fly over the 12-day period around Thanksgiving.

JILL POCIUS: It's a little chaotic.

SCHAPER: Jill Pocius is waiting in the security line at Chicago's Midway Airport, and she isn't a fan of the holiday crowd.

POCIUS: Yeah, and I don't love to fly anyway, so it kind of just adds an extra element that I dread.

SCHAPER: To make the experience a little less dreadful, the Transportation Security Administration has added new automated screening lanes at Midway and 10 other airports.

KEVIN MCCARTHY: It really helps us prove the efficiency of the checkpoint but also improve the passenger experience.

SCHAPER: The TSA's Kevin McCarthy explains that no longer will travelers have to wait while just one person at a time takes out their laptop, takes off their shoes and places their carry-on items into bins to be screened.

MCCARTHY: Now upfront we have four separate divesting stations where four passengers at a time can remove their carry-on items and put them on those trays. And the trays are automatically - the bins are automatically provided. There's an automatic feeder belt. The bin is automatically available right underneath.

SCHAPER: That means no more waiting for a TSA officer to retrieve the bins from the end of the lane and cart them back. But it's not just better machines that travelers like Jill Pocius want from the TSA.

POCIUS: The nicer they are to us always makes me feel better. I don't like when they yell (laughter).

SCHAPER: But if a quicker, smoother trip through security doesn't make you happier, maybe this will.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light.

SCHAPER: Many airports are adding festive touches like live music to boost the holiday spirit. But seriously, can it relax travelers enough to handle talking politics with family over Thanksgiving dinner? David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Make the Yuletide gay. From now on, your troubles will be far away. Here we are as in olden days. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.