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Americans head home after holiday

Air travel delays reported in Great Lakes, New York

By Mark Davis

Traffic crawls along I-5 in Oregon Sunday.
Traffic crawls along I-5 in Oregon Sunday.

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Airport security moved mostly smoothly as thousands of Americans headed home from the Thanksgiving holiday. CNN's Kathleen Koch reports (December 2)
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Make sure you have photo identification.

Don't put prohibited items (knives, scissors) in carry-on bags.

Avoid wearing metal jewelry and big buckles.

Don't wear big-soled shoes.

Keep electronic items in the open.

Leave gifts you're carrying unwrapped.

Get to the airport early and check your bags.

Use airline self-service machines or the Internet to get a boarding pass.

Source: Transportation Security Administration

ARLINGTON, Virginia (CNN) -- With few exceptions, the 5.1 million holiday travelers who descended on the nation's airports Sunday reached their destinations on time, or nearly so, federal officials said.

The exceptions were in the New York City region, where wind gusts snarled air traffic at two of the area's three major airports.

At LaGuardia Airport, departures were delayed by an average of one hour and 45 minutes, and some arriving flights were delayed by more than 10 hours, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

At Newark International Airport, delays averaged 1 hour, 26 minutes, with some flights delayed by more than four hours.

New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport reported arrival or departure delays of less than 45 minutes.

Freezing weather in the Great Lakes region -- Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester -- meant departures were delayed for 30 minutes while planes were de-iced.

A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, the federal agency set up after the September 11 attacks to improve the screening of air passengers, said the new program was going smoothly.

"So far, we've seen everything running like clockwork at all the airports around America," said Robert Johnson about the job being done by the new screeners, 44,000 of whom have been hired.

"The wait times are low; in many cases, there's no wait at all, and people are barely getting enough time to take the metal out of their pockets before they get to the metal detectors."

Despite massive publicity warning travelers not to attempt to carry forbidden items aboard commercial flights, "we intercept tens of thousands of knives every day," he said.

In addition, the screeners are also finding the chemical Mace, also banned, he said.

This year's projected total of air travelers was expected to be 6 percent more than the number that traipsed through the 429 U.S. airports over the last Thanksgiving holiday, the AAA predicted last week.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is typically the busiest air travel day of the year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

"Despite an economy that still shows only sporadic signs of recovery, holiday travelers are returning to the skies in numbers almost as heavy as during the Thanksgiving periods prior to 2001," said AAA Travel Vice President Sandra Hughes. "This is definitely a positive sign for an airline industry that has struggled mightily in the last year."

Flyers found tighter quarters this year. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, and the resulting sharp drop in air travel, major airlines cut their flights by at least 10 percent, which has translated into fewer available seats.

In all, 35.9 million Americans planned to travel at least 50 miles from home during the holiday, up 1.7 percent over last year, the AAA survey said.

The overwhelming majority -- 86 percent -- went by motor vehicle, about the same as last year.

At the pumps, Americans shelled out an average of $1.46 for a gallon of gas, about $0.25 higher than last year's price.

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