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Travel Adviser

Thanksgiving travel expected to exceed pre-9/11 levels

By Marnie Hunter
Travelers make their way through the terminal at Miami International Airport Tuesday.
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Do you plan to travel more than 50 miles for the Thanksgiving holiday?
Air Transportation
Transportation Security Administration
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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

(CNN) -- Americans traveling to join friends and family for Thanksgiving are expected to brave crowds above pre-9/11 levels for the first time since the attacks, according to a AAA survey.

AAA estimates that 37.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday period, up 3.1 percent from last year; in 2000, 36.8 million Americans traveled during the four-day period.

AAA's research is based on a national telephone survey of 1,300 adults.

Running into heavy traffic is likely, with 82 percent of all holiday travelers -- about 30.6 million -- expected to go by car.

David Ross and his family are starting their drive from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Boston, Massachusetts, on Tuesday evening to dodge some of the holiday congestion.

Ross' plan to avoid the Wednesday crush is a good one, AAA spokesman Justin McNaull said.

"If you can get out of town before [Wednesday afternoon] or if you can wait until early Thursday morning, you might find the going a little smoother," he said.

Ross, 44, a multimedia designer, is making the trip with his wife and their three teenage children to see relatives. They break up the journey and stay off the main roads to make the long drive easier.

"We could take I-95, which is the [highway] everyone else takes, but our tactics are to go on the more scenic route," he said.

An average national price of $1.96 per gallon for self-serve regular gasoline, up 40 to 50 cents from last year, is not expected to deter motorists.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers advice for those traveling by car.

"You want to make sure you're always buckled up and everybody in your vehicle is buckled up. That saves more lives than anything else," said Liz Neblett, an NHTSA spokeswoman.

Allow plenty of time to reach your destination, build in time for stops at least every three hours, and do not drink and drive, she said.

During last year's four-day Thanksgiving holiday period, 560 people were killed in traffic accidents, according to NHTSA. Forty-four percent of those deaths were alcohol-related.

AAA estimates 2 million holiday travelers will travel by train, bus or other mode of transportation, up from 1.9 million last year.

Arriving by air

Air travelers should expect to rub elbows with more Americans in airports this Thanksgiving. According to AAA, air travel is expected to increase by 4 percent this year, to 4.6 million travelers.

The Wednesday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving are typically the busiest days of the year at airports, McNaull said.

"So if you're traveling on either of them, give yourself plenty of time, meaning two hours -- or perhaps a little more -- to check in, to get through security and get to your gate with a comfortable margin," he said.

"Planes are going to be very full, so if you end up missing your flight, there might not be room for you on the next one."

Scott Murphy, 35, a service director for a Fortune 500 company, plans to arrive at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, about 3 p.m. Wednesday for a 5:30 p.m. flight to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Last year Murphy waited in line for two hours during the holiday rush, so he expects long lines this time around. He is packing light to cut down on hassles.

"I'm not taking anything -- just a little backpack carry-on," he said.

The Transportation Security Administration is restricting leave for TSA employees and putting managers on the floor alongside screeners to ensure adequate staffing during the Thanksgiving holiday period, TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said.

She advised travelers to check with their airport and airline, and plan accordingly.

"During the holidays it's not just the screening process that passengers have to go through. With more passengers in the airport, ticket lines are bound to be longer, you've got parking and checking in your baggage and that sort of thing," she said.

To avoid setting off alarms on the metal detectors, the TSA recommends passengers avoid wearing shoes, clothing, jewelry and accessories that contain metal.

Although passengers are not required to remove shoes to go through checkpoints, TSA screeners will encourage it because many types of shoes set off the alarms.

A new rule requires passengers to remove outerwear, including sport coats, blazers, warm-up jackets and winter coats.

The TSA has also expanded the use of explosive-trace detectors and manual pat-down searches. Passengers selected for additional screening may request that it be done in private, Clark said.

The TSA's lists of items that are allowed on flights is posted on the agency's Web siteexternal link.

McNaull said he hopes the screening process will go as well this year as it did a year ago.

"Last year there weren't too many nightmare stories," he said. "We're optimistic it'll be that way this year, but we'll have even more people going through airports this year than last and security processes have become a little more involved."

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