11/26/08 — Travelers get ready for melee across country

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Travelers get ready for melee across country

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 26, 2008 1:46 PM

Thanksgiving week traditionally kicks off the busiest travel season of the year, but in a subdued economy and with other holiday expenses looming large, some travelers might be rethinking their plans.

AAA Carolinas expects 17,000 fewer drivers will hit the road this year than in 2007, but still anticipates 1.22 million North Carolinians will travel by airplane or automobile.

"Concern over the economy is having a depressing effect on Thanksgiving holiday travel this year," said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. "Still, the decline is smaller than might be expected, because most people think Thanksgiving is a holiday they want to spend with families and friends."

AAA Carolinas reported that area gasoline prices fell to an average of $1.74 this week, down from $2.74 a month ago and almost half of what drivers paid for a gallon of regular unleaded this time last year. The benchmark for cheap gas in Goldsboro this morning was $1.68.

Goldsboro Avis agent Rob Reim said that his company experienced a typical lull in car rentals in August and September, but has bounced back in recent weeks.

"We've been on a steady increase," he said.

Reim said he doesn't think the recently falling gas prices have affected travelers' decision to rent a car.

"They (gas prices) haven't been down that long," he said. "People still rent for the same reasons."

One of those reasons might be that rental companies offer vehicles that get better gas mileage than privately owned cars and trucks, he said.

Most motorists who decide to hit the road will have clear paths to their destinations. The N.C. Department of Transportation will suspend most of the construction projects along interstates and U.S. routes from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1, with the exception of Interstate 85 in Vance County between mile markers 206 and 214.

Raleigh-Durham Intern-ational airport expects about 280,000 people to come through the terminals between Nov. 21 and Dec. 1, about 20,000 fewer than last year during the same time period.

RDU offers a list of travel tips to help airline passengers navigate airports:

* Label your luggage with big, bright tags to help you identify it.

* Travel-sized toiletries 3 ounces or less are permitted, but must be placed together in a single quart-size, clear plastic ziplock bag.

* Leave the wrapped presents at home, or mail them instead: security personnel may unwrap packages you try to take on the plane, whether they are in your checked or unchecked luggage.

* Put all undeveloped film and disposable cameras in your carry-on bag, as checked baggage screening equipment will damage them. Digital cameras are safe.

* Don't forget to remove any pocket knives, cigarette lighters and Mace from your pockets before going through security.

* Arrive at least two hours before your flight.

* Allow extra time if you are traveling with children, and don't forget to pack a few quiet toys to keep them entertained.

* If you are traveling with a pet, bring a harness or leash. You may be asked to remove the pet from the carrier at the security checkpoint.

For motorists, AAA Carolinas suggests these safety tips:

* Drivers should stop to take a stretch break every two hours or 150 miles to stay energized.

* On long trips, switching drivers regularly can help reduce fatigue, but only if the backup driver is sitting in the back seat. Passengers in the front seat are paying just as much attention to the road as the driver and can become just as tired.

* Add 15 minutes to every hour the trip usually takes to compensate for the increased holiday traffic.

* Get your vehicle's tires and fluids inspected and topped off before leaving.