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Crowds, snow expected for Thanksgiving travel rush

Emily Michot

Travelers trying to make it home — or just about anywhere — for the holiday weekend are likely to run into weather-related roadblocks this Thanksgiving.

A winter storm was set to dump rain and some snow on the busiest airports and roadways in the Northeast on Wednesday, one of the busiest travel days of the year. Heavier snow was expected inland.

“That’s going to make for a travel nightmare for Wednesday,” said Carl Erickson, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.

By mid Tuesday, 14 flights within the U.S. were canceled for Wednesday, according to tracking service FlightAware. But United said it planned to cancel 100 flights Wednesday in and out of Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, and Delta planned to scrap 57 flights.

Carriers — including American Airlines, United, JetBlue, Spirit and Southwest — were allowing passengers flying to, from or through some Northeast cities Wednesday to change their flight to Tuesday or Thursday without fees — though full flights made finding an early seat tricky.

The weather system will smack into what’s expected to be the busiest Thanksgiving travel period since 2007, according to projections from AAA.

The organization expects 46.3 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more from home between Wednesday and Sunday, a 4.2 percent increase compared to last year. In Florida, the number of travelers is projected to increase 4.7 percent to 2.3 million, AAA said.

Mark Jenkins, a AAA spokesman, said the increase appears to be driven by improved consumer confidence, a stronger labor market and an overall brighter economic picture. Gas prices of about $2.81 a gallon for regular — the national average Tuesday — also don’t hurt.

“Falling gas prices certainly help to boost disposable income and, in turn, consumer spending,” Jenkins said.

Although far from the busiest holiday weekend in South Florida, hotels still expect to be busy. For the holiday stretch between Wednesday and Saturday, Miami-Dade hotels were expected to be about 76.1 percent full, up slightly from the same time last year. Several Broward hotels were sold out by last week.

Miami International Airport expects more than 914,000 passengers during the eight-day stretch that started Monday, an anticipated increase of one percent compared to the same time a year ago. The airport launched its free mobile app, MIA Airport Official, on Tuesday to help provide travelers with information on parking, ground transportation, dining and flights in time for the holiday. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport expects more than 500,000 passengers between Tuesday and Dec. 1.

Some travelers will be in for a smoother security experience now that TSA PreCheck — which allows certain travelers to pass through checkpoints without removing their shoes, light jackets, liquids or laptops — has been expanded to 122 airports.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said that since the agency opened offices in which travelers could proactively enroll in the program last December, 700,000 people have joined. Nearly 4 million passengers across the country now qualify for the lanes.

“Several hundred thousand people more than last holiday season are now in the program,” Koshetz said.

Still, experts warn even travelers with fast-lane clearance should expect slow going for the next few days.

“Even if you’re not traveling to a destination that is affected by bad weather itself, there always tends to be a ripple effect because everything’s so connected,” said Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com. “The advice is so simple and basic: Just be prepared that there might be delays.”

She suggests getting to the airport earlier than usual and programming travel provider numbers into cellphones ahead of time, and she urges travelers to keep their phone chargers handy in case of emergencies.

In South Florida, tourism boosters hoped that news of snowy weather would drive business down the road this winter.

“We want to be sensitive to dramatic climate conditions up north, and they’ve had a really tough go at it,” said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, referring to the several feet of snow that fell in western New York recently.

But, he added: “I was driving with my convertible top down today. It is really hot here.”

Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said pre-winter snowfall “never hurts” when it comes to building buzz for warm-weather destinations.

“The earlier the better, that’s how we feel about winter,” she said.

This report was supplemented with information from the Associated Press.

AIR TRAVEL TIPS

▪ Program your airline’s phone number into your cellphone before leaving for the airport to have it easily available in case of rebooking emergency.

▪ Monitor your flight’s status on your airline’s website or a site like flightstats.com or flightaware.com.

▪ In carrying-on luggage, place liquids, gels and aerosols 3.4 ounces or less in a quart-sized bag.

▪ Tape a card with name and contact information on any large electronics that will go through security.

▪ To make sure nothing gets lost or taken, put jewelry or cellphones into carry-on bags before going through security rather than placing them directly in a bin at the checkpoint.

▪ Guns can only be packed in checked luggage and must be unloaded, placed in a locked, hard-sided container and declared to the airline.

▪ Wear shoes that can easily be removed.

▪ Check boarding passes to see if it is marked with TSA PreCheck; if so, go to the appropriate lane at security.

Source: Transportation Security Administration and Miami Herald reporting

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