Airports, train stations, roads packed as nervous Thanksgiving travelers head out

Thursday, November 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Millions of travelers _ some of them fearful for their safety _ hit the road, took to the air or climbed aboard trains for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Despite predictions of a drop in holiday travel this year, airports were crowded and highways were jammed as people headed to their destinations Wednesday.

The AAA predicted a 6 percent decline in Thanksgiving holiday travel this year following the airborne terrorist attacks, an economic downturn and the crash earlier this month of American Airlines Flight 587.

Still, travelers flying out of the nation's airports were forced to stand in long lines to have their bags checked, with the National Guard watching in many places.

At Los Angeles International Airport, hundreds of people lined up outside a Southwest and America West airlines terminal, enduring 20-minute waits to get inside. Under heightened security, they had to show their tickets and pass through a metal detector to enter.

Sean Wolfson, 25, a Los Angeles college student heading to Chicago, was flying for the first time since the attacks.

``It's no sweat. I think there are precautions they have to take so everyone feels safer,'' he said. ``But I don't feel the doom hanging over my head.''

Joe McBride, spokesman for the Kansas City International Airport, had a positive spin on the number of holiday travelers lining up at airports.

``We're going back to the business of being Americans, and part of that is Thanksgiving,'' he said.

While security slowed down travelers at airports, some people at train and bus stations said security seemed a little too lax.

A pile of luggage sat unattended near a gate at the train station in Toledo, Ohio, and no security guards were in sight at the passenger waiting area.

``You just walk right on and they don't check your bags,'' said Daniel Cohen, a sophomore at the University of Toledo, who was taking the train to visit his girlfriend in Chicago.

Security was tighter at the Greyhound bus terminal in Salt Lake City, where passengers were checked with hand-held metal detectors before boarding buses.

AAA said it expects a record 87 percent of this year's Thanksgiving travel to be by automobile.

The heavily traveled highways between New York to Washington were choked with cars early Thursday, with the New Jersey Turnpike backed up for seven miles in the southern part of the state.

Rest stops were packed on busy I-95 in Delaware. Travelers dragged sleepy kids to bathrooms and bought cheeseburgers and huge cinnamon sticky buns for an early Thanksgiving Day meal.

Mark Barney, 34, of Huntersville, N.C., stopped at a gas station near Jacksonville, Fla., during a trip with his wife and three daughters to visit family in Melbourne, Fla.

After years of making the trip, Barney says he has found a way to get through the ordeal.

``It's a bag of sunflower seeds and a Tom Clancy book on tape,'' he said. ``They sleep and I drive. Sunflower seeds, they'll keep you awake.''