News Column

On the Road; Join the crowd

Nov. 21, 2012

Mary Lynn Smith and Nicole Norfleet, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Traffic

Never mind that gas prices still feel high and air travel is cramped, the race to grandma's house is on.

As the turkey begins to thaw, 43.6 million Americans are expected to hit the roads and airports Wednesday, the busiest single travel day of the holiday.

The national crush of travelers is expected to be about the same as last year, but at least one local travel agent is seeing more, and different, fliers.

Sandy Anderson, owner of Travel Leaders in Coon Rapids, said her business is up about 15 percent over last year with multigenerational vacations -- a family holiday trip to a vacation spot -- gaining in popularity as the recession eased.

"That's where grandma brings her kids and their kids, so there are three generations, and they go to a beach house in Mexico for a week over the holidays so families can be together at Thanksgiving or Christmas," Anderson said. "People are a little more confident in the economy. Some of the 401(k)s of grandma and grandpa have increased a bit."

So instead of a wool sweater, grandma and grandpa give the gift of travel to young families who can't afford it, Anderson said. "Right after 9/11, that became a big thing. Everyone wanted to be with their family. ... Then the recession hit."

Travel slumped along with the economy. According to AAA, Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008.

"People cut back. Now they're planning ahead," she said. "They budget for it because they want to see their families at the holidays."

So that will leave airline travelers once again trapped in long serpentine lines through airport security. "I tell people to get to the airport early and be prepared to wait," Anderson said. "For an international flight, that means getting to the airport three hours early. People should reserve parking at one of the out lots, they should reserve a shuttle if they need to, and confirm it the night before, pre-reserve seats, download boarding passes and pre-pay for luggage to cut down on the wait time."

With airlines flying closer to capacity, travelers likely won't find an empty seat to spread out in, Anderson said. "And it's always good to pack some food to take on board. I have a lot of clients who are brown-bagging it," she said, noting that airlines have cut back on serving meals.

That's if there's a ticket.

"Normally, leisure travelers have to book six to nine months in advance," said Michelle Surkamp, of Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

Blame airline consolidation and capacity cutbacks that have meant fewer flights and fuller planes, she said.

Procrastinators could be out of luck unless they're willing to pay more and fly at nonpeak times. "For example, can you leave on Thanksgiving Day and return Saturday or Tuesday," Surkamp said.

That's what the Coffey family is doing.

Emily Coffey, 37, flew out of Atlanta on Tuesday with her husband and two young children to spend Thanksgiving with family in Minneapolis.

"It's been smooth sailing so far," she said, as her 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son played in the baggage area.

To beat the rush back, they fly home Saturday. "We're hoping it works," Coffey said.

Carolyn Bloom, 54, of Hopkins, was waiting for her daughter to fly in from college in Pennsylvania.

"This seems very quiet to me," Bloom said.

Flying earlier also gives travelers an extra day in case anything goes wrong, she said. Her son won't have that luxury. He was scheduled to fly in Wednesday. "That should be a little crazier."

Of course, more than 90 percent of the families that travel will do so by car.

According to a new AAA survey, residents of Minnesota and seven nearby states are slightly more likely to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday than Americans as a whole, but they'll stay closer to home and take more of their trips by car.

Most of them will hit the highway on Wednesday, said Matt Hehl, a spokesman for the AAA in Minneapolis. "Some people have the day off and they're going to try to leave town early," he said. But the roads will remain busy with holiday travelers throughout the day, Hehl said, with most families making their return trips Sunday.



Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)


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