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Travelers get set for Thanksgiving rush

Story Highlights

• 2.7 percent increase from 2005 traveler numbers expected
• Confusion expected over recent changes to carry-on rules
• 83 percent of travelers expected to drive
By Marnie Hunter
CNN
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(CNN) -- Congested highways and long security lines are likely to be part of the journey for many of the millions of Americans who are taking to the roads and skies to join family and friends for Thanksgiving.

AAA, the automobile club, expects more than 38 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, a 2.7 percent increase from last year.

The number of air travelers is expected to rise about 3 percent from last year to 4.8 million, despite an average 4 percent increase in airfares.

Many in the travel industry expect confusion over the recent liquid restrictions for carry-on luggage to add to wait times at airport security checkpoints. [Full story]

"We expect this is going to catch a lot of travelers by surprise, and so I think we're going to see longer lines in security," said Amy Ziff, a spokeswoman for online travel agency Travelocity.com.

"We're not going to necessarily enjoy the quick 10 minutes and you're done, you're through security, that we've come to enjoy in the past couple of years."

A ban on liquids implemented in August following a thwarted terror plot was modified in September to allow passengers to bring small containers (3 ounces or less) on board in a one-quart zip-top plastic bag. Each passenger is allowed one bag, which must be placed on the conveyer belt for X-ray screening.

Security wait times have jumped at some airports since the rules were changed. At Philadelphia International Airport wait times were up five minutes in October.

Transportation Security Administration officials have been working to get the word out on the new rules, which the agency is referring to as "The 3-1-1 for Carry-onsexternal link." Passengers who are checking luggage are encouraged to pack liquids in those bags.

Most of the TSA's 43,000 security officers will be working over the busy holiday period, and airports will have additional staff on duty.

David Biggs, 51, isn't planning to take the 3-1-1 route on his flight from Boston, Massachusetts, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday morning. He's checking two large suitcases.

"The only thing I'll be bringing through the line is proper identification, a ticket and the clothes that I'm wearing," said Biggs, an academic adviser at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts.

"So I'm putting a lot of faith in the airline situation to get my bags to me upon my arrival in Philadelphia."

A rise in checked bags since the initial ban on liquids may mean more mishandled bags: The number of mishandled baggage complaints in September nearly doubled from September 2005.

Biggs booked early flights on Wednesday and Sunday to skirt crowds, and he's happy to be making the trip to visit family by plane.

"I learned so much in college, and certainly one of the things I learned is do not drive home for Thanksgiving," Biggs said.

The vast majority of travelers, nearly 83 percent, will be driving this holiday. Nearly 32 million Americans are expected to drive 50 miles or more from home for Thanksgiving.

Parker Sanders, 28, isn't concerned about his drive Wednesday from Atlanta, Georgia, to Columbus, Mississippi. Getting out of Atlanta is the hardest leg of the trip, and he knows better than to head out in 5 p.m. traffic.

"I just don't even bother to fight it. I would rather drive later. It's less stressful -- I'd rather spend my time relaxing before I get on the road," said Sanders, who is an attorney.

According to a November 17 Lundberg Survey, the average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gas is $2.23, a penny lower than the same week a year ago.

AAA advises travelers to map their routes in advance and to allow extra time for unexpected traffic, road work or poor weather conditions. Also buckle up, fuel up, get a full night's rest before hitting the road and take a break every two hours or 100 miles.

And try to avoid peak travel times.

"The earlier in the week you can leave, the better off you are," said AAA spokesman Mike Pina.


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