Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Skies, roads will likely be stuffed

AAA predicting slight uptick in Thanksgiving travel this year

The economy may have taken its toll on the number of people flying this holiday season, but travelers shouldn’t expect a reprieve from the usual delays, nor should they expect empty seats on airplanes.

“This time of year you are going to have most every seat sold,” said Todd Woodard, Spokane International Airport spokesman. “Travelers can expect pretty full flights.”

The number of Americans traveling away from home for Thanksgiving will be up slightly this year from 2008, according to a report from AAA.

But they won’t be flying.

The auto club group, which surveyed 1,350 households, said there will be about 33.2 million people traveling by car this year – a 2.1 percent increase from last year.

By comparison, there will be a 6.7 percent decrease in the number of air travelers, totaling 2.3 million this year, continuing a decade-long decline of Thanksgiving air travel.

“The economy is still very clearly weighing heavily on the minds of Thanksgiving travelers this year, and that’s evidenced by the very small increase that we expect to see in total travel,” said Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesman for AAA’s national office in Heathrow, Fla.

The busy holiday travel season officially started Friday at Spokane’s airport, Woodard said.

“The ticketing lines were noticeably bigger,” he said. Busy times will continue through Tuesday, then taper off until Sunday as travelers return home.

While airlines have cut the number of planes in the air and passed on heavy discounts to travelers in the past several months, planes are still likely to be full over Thanksgiving. In addition, bottlenecks are still likely to occur because of weather or flight delays, especially for those traveling east.

Spokane offers nonstop flights to three major hub cities: Denver, Minneapolis and Chicago.

Those cities are often stops for continued travel to cities farther east, including New York, whose three major airports ranked the worst in on-time arrivals among the 31 major U.S. air hubs, according to federal statistics.

Denver International Airport saw nearly 930,000 passengers come through the airport during the Thanksgiving week last year, officials said.

Delays in those hubs have “the ripple effect on us as well,” said Spokane’s Woodard.

Typically any delays won’t be noticeable until the evening hours, when flights from the East are expected to arrive in Spokane, Woodard said.

In addition to air and car travel, AAA forecasts about 2.9 million people will take other modes of transport, including trains and buses. That’s up about 1.2 percent from last year.

In the report released Wednesday, AAA officials said the expected increase in travel overall reflects improved consumer confidence from a year ago, when Thanksgiving travel dropped 25 percent following the country’s housing and economic problems. Americans may feel more financially secure and be more willing to travel, the report says.

Amtrak expects Wednesday to be its heaviest single travel day of the year, with as many as 125,000 passengers nationwide.

The rail system is bracing for the holiday by running more trains with higher capacity on its lines in the Pacific Northwest including Seattle and Portland, and in the Chicago area and the Northeast corridor. Most of those will run on the busiest days: the day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after.