Thanksgiving holiday weekend travelers endure congestion, tight security on trip home

Monday, November 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Lisa Chong arrived at Los Angeles International Airport an hour before her scheduled departure _ about half the time recommended by her airline.

But Chong, who was returning to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, didn't encounter any problems: only a handful of people were in the check-in line.

``I actually thought it would be more crowded. This is good, compared to other years,'' said Chong, 27.

Not all travelers were so fortunate. Across the nation, millions of travelers endured congestion and increased security as they returned to airports, highways and railways at the conclusion of the first major holiday travel period since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Final figures on the number of Thanksgiving travelers were not expected until later in the week. Although the number of Americans traveling during the holiday was expected to be down 6 percent since last year, Sunday shaped up to be one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Several airlines said their flights were almost at capacity.

``All the terminals are full,'' David Rogers said as he waited at Hartsfield Atlanta International for his flight home to Mobile, Ala.

Highways also were busy. In Atlanta, where three major interstates cross, traffic moved well but volume was heavy. New Jersey highways were clogged.

``There's only so much asphalt out there,'' said Lynn Fleeger, director of public affairs for the New Jersey Turnpike.

More travelers were expected to drive to their holiday destination, while a decline in air travel was predicted because of the weak economy and fear of flying since the airborne attacks.

An estimated 690,000 passengers went through Los Angeles International Airport during the weekend, a 25 percent drop from last year, spokesman Harold Johnson said.

Chicago's airports were expected to experience their busiest day since Sept. 11, but the numbers are still not back to normal, said Department of Aviation spokeswoman Monique Bond. Passengers experienced long lines at security checkpoints but flights were generally on time.

An aviation industry analyst, Terry Trippler of Trippler & Associates Inc. in Minneapolis, predicted that the airlines' holiday business would turn out to be better than expected, and said the period was crucial for the airlines' futures.

``It was critical to the airlines that they pull off this Thanksgiving weekend so people would say 'Thanksgiving was all right, so we will fly at Christmastime,''' he said.

Amtrak reported an increase in train travel, but did not provide figures. The company added 75,000 seats, more than last year's Thanksgiving holiday period, when 567,000 people rode on the passenger rail service during a seven-day period.

A power outage caused by a freight train derailment delayed thousands of passengers on a Boston to Washington Amtrak train Sunday afternoon. Amtrak was back to normal Monday morning.

At Boston's South Station new security measures put in place by Amtrak now prohibit nonticket holders from accompanying travelers onto platforms.

``It's a pain,'' said Santosh Chaturvedi, 34, returning to Princeton, N.J., after visiting family in Massachusetts. ``I guess some people feel safer.''

Greyhound Bus Lines hoped it would post an increase over the 800,000 riders it carried in a six-day holiday period last year.

Vera Snyder, 56, of Bellevue, Wash., waited about two hours for her older sister to arrive from Helena, Mont., because the bus she was supposed to take was full.

``This is the first time we bothered with the bus,'' Snyder said. ``She was afraid to fly and I was afraid to have her fly.''

Passengers were not allowed to take sharp objects onto buses, which were randomly searched by the company. Also there were extra guards on the platforms, said Hector Rodarte, supervisor of the Greyhound station in San Francisco.

Most travelers were grateful for increased security.

Farrah Pappa flew from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to visit relatives, departing on Wednesday in case terrorists struck on Thanksgiving Day.

``We were a little nervous,'' said Pappa, 25, as she waited to fly home Sunday. ``Extra security definitely makes me feel better.''

Tommy Laudicina carried only a backpack on his trip from Fort Myers, Fla., to Los Angeles so he would not have to check any luggage.

``I was nervous at first. But then I thought with all this security, what could happen?'' said Laudicina, a 21-year-old plumber. ``I don't mind the lines or getting my ID checked three times.''