11/20/07 — Traveling for turkey begins

View Archive

Traveling for turkey begins

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 20, 2007 1:46 PM

Travel experts say expect crowds and heavy traffic if traveling is on your agenda this Thanksgiving holiday.

Airports will be crowded and gas more expensive, but officials from AAA Carolinas in Charlotte say that won't stop families from heading out in greater numbers this holiday season.

North Carolina highway travelers are expected to total 1.09 million -- 2 percent more than last Thanksgiving. And AAA is expecting 163,000 flyers in North Carolina.

Gas prices also will be much higher than last year. The national average for unleaded regular gasoline is $3.095 compared to last Thanksgiving holiday's $2.237. The state average is not that much better at $3.075 compared to last year's $2.206. If you are going to fill up in Raleigh, expect to see $3.079. Last year, the price was $2.210.

But even with the increase, Adrian Parrish at D.M Price & Sons hopes to sell about 10 percent more gas this week than usual.

"It usually happens every Thanksgiving," Parrish said.

He isn't sure yet what to think about gas sales at Christmas.

He said sales could be up this year, depending on the cost of flying compared to driving.

"More people might drive than fly," he said.

Eileen Conekin at All About Travel on Spence Avenue is cautioning her clients to allow extra time at the airport. The airlines recommend arriving two hours in advance, but she says it's better to put yourself ahead of the crowd by taking a good book with you and arriving at the airport closer to two-and-a-half hours before the flight.

And travelers should remember that they cannot check in late, either, Ms. Conekin said.

Arriving 30 minutes before flight time means a missed plane in Raleigh-Durham. At larger airports like Atlanta, 45 minutes is the cutoff.

Don't have a ticket yet? Be prepared to shell out big money to get on a plane this week.

It's very difficult to book a flight at the last minute for Thanksgiving. All the planes are full, and if there is a cancellation, that seat is going for a very premium price like $888 for a round-trip ticket from Raleigh-Durham International to New York City, Ms. Conekin said.

"Typically, most people start planning in June or July," she said. "The small regional jets sell their 40 seats very quickly."

She says the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after are the busiest travel days of the year, because unlike Christmas, it's a shorter time. Christmas can span two weeks. For the Christmas holidays, the busiest flying days are Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.

"Because of the computer, the airlines know what days and what times the planes will be full, so they charge more for those days and times," Ms. Conekin said.

And because the planes are full, there will be a line, AAA public relations manager Liz Luke said.

"It's going to be very busy, so use caution and common sense," she said.

Airfares are down about 7 percent, with the average fare of $163, but Ms. Luke said that ticket was probably booked in the summer.

And the same rules apply to holiday travelers -- one carry on item and any bottles of liquids or gels carried onto the plane must be three ounces or less and housed in a clear plastic bag.

A little preplanning can make holiday airplane travel run smoothly.

"You've heard the saying drive defensively, but if you're flying, you can use defensive flying, too," Ms. Luke said. "Check with your carrier before you leave the house and make sure everything is running on time."

Ms. Luke won't be in an airport this year. She will be one of the millions on the road to head to a family gathering more than two hours from her home.

She is planning to take it easy.

"If you're driving, too, keep your head, and you'll get there in one piece," she said.

Those heading out on the highway, should get their car checked before they start out, she added. Tire tread and pressure are particularly important.

Ms. Luke said it's a good idea to add about 15 minutes to every hour the trip typically takes. You will be less likely to speed and less likely to take out your frustrations on the highway when you give yourself plenty of time to arrive.

Safe driving will be the focus of the N.C. Highway Patrol's campaign this week, with increased patrols and the Booze It and Lose It anti-drunken driving campaign.

The Highway Patrol will target speeders and aggressive drivers on the interstates and major four-lane highways during Operation Slow Down, which began on Nov. 13 and ends Sunday.

Colonel W. Fletcher Clay, commander of the State Highway Patrol, said 11 motorists died on North Carolina highways during the holiday last year.

"I have instructed our troopers to crackdown on speeders this holiday weekend; speed is the leading cause of fatal collisions on our highways," he said. "Getting to your destination safely should be your number one goal. Don't try to cut off a few minutes of your drive time by speeding or driving aggressively. It's just not worth it."

Troopers will be using helicopters at the following locations during the campaign:

* I-77 near the Mecklenburg and Iredell County Lines on Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m.

* I-40 near the Wake and Johnston County Lines on Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m.

* I-95 in Robeson County near the 36 mile marker on Friday from 1 to 3 p.m.

* I-26 in Henderson County between the 42 and 46 mile markers on Friday from 1 to 3 p.m.

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend officially begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and ends at midnight Sunday.

Motorists can report highway problems to the Highway Patrol by dialing *HP (*47) on their cellular phones. The toll-free call goes directly to the nearest Highway Patrol communication center.