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Thanksgiving Travelers Will Need An Extra Helping Of Patience


Get ready for bumper-to-bumper traffic, crowded terminals, little personal space. It is the busiest travel week of the year. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Let's face it. Flying just isn't what it used to be - the long lines, the uncomfortable security screening, the darting and dodging your way through the crowded terminal and then cramming yourself and your carry-ons onto the plane itself.

JOE SCHWIETERMAN: No question, the air travel environment is closer to a city bus now or a subway than it is to the glamorous cruise-type experience it was 50 years ago.

SCHAPER: That's Joe Schwieterman, transportation expert at Chicago's DePaul University and a former airline executive, who confirms that airplane seats and the spaces between them are getting smaller yet some of us travelers are getting bigger, not to mention louder, more impatient and less civil.

SCHWIETERMAN: You know, it's a little like road rage on the highways. When you cram lots of people into a space and you put them there and you turn up the heat or you have a delay, it brings out the worst in people.

SCHAPER: Airlines are predicting a big uptick in the number of passengers flying over the Thanksgiving holiday period to a level not seen since before the recession in 2008. Trains and buses will likely be packed as tight as planes, and the roadways will be more congested, too, according to AAA. President and CEO Marshall Doney says more than 41 million Americans will be driving at least 50 miles to Thanksgiving destinations.

MARSHALL DONEY: It's the largest number of travelers for the Thanksgiving period since 2007, which predates our Great Recession.

SCHAPER: Helping fuel the increase in drivers on the road this holiday is gasoline prices. They've dropped to their lowest Thanksgiving level in five years.

DONEY: The average national gasoline price today is $2.85 a gallon. That represents an 84-cent-per-gallon drop compared to the high-level prices that we had back in April of this year.

SCHAPER: So just how bad will congestion be?

JIM BAK: On the Wednesday afternoon, you know, a trip out of town is going to take 25 percent longer on average across the country. And in a city like Los Angeles or San Francisco, it'll take up to a third longer.

SCHAPER: Jim Bak is a traffic analyst with the Seattle-based big data company INRIX, and he suggests leaving early Wednesday if you can - real early.

BAK: What happens on these getaway days, you'll see a peak as early as 3 p.m. in a lot of places. So that's when traffic's going to be the worst.

SCHAPER: So Bak says that Wednesday afternoon will be the worst day for highway congestion, especially on roads leading to airports. But airports will see their worst congestion on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. And of course bad weather can make congestion and delays much worse than predicted. So in addition to packing for the worst weather possible, travelers should bring a lot of extra patience. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

GREENE: Safe travels from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.