More Texans will be hitting the road and hopping on a plane for the Thanksgiving holiday.
AAA Texas estimates that 3.3 million Texans will travel starting Wednesday, up 11.9 percent compared with last year. Nationwide, AAA predicts that 42.2 million people will take a trip, also up 11.4 percent.
And Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, whose busy holiday travel period begins today, anticipates 1.7 million passengers, a 5 percent increase over last year. Even with this year's projected increases, however, it's clear that the economy has taken its toll.
AAA said its estimate for travel nationwide will still be almost 30 percent below the 2005 peak of 58.6 million travelers. And D/FW's forecast will be down 23 percent from the 2.2 million passengers the airport served during Thanksgiving 2007.
On the highways
AAA Texas spokesman Dan Ronan said it's been a "tough" two years for travel during the Thanksgiving period.
"It's been very hard to get people out, because the economy has been in pretty dire shape," Ronan said. "As the economy has started to improve, we're starting to see more people talking about getting out and traveling, taking trips."
Stable gasoline prices and a desire to see relatives and friends has more Texans taking trips this season, he said.
In Texas, 3.1 million are expected to drive an average of 547 miles, AAA says. Texans are expected to spend an average of about $405 on their Thanksgiving vacation, less than the national median of $495. Nationwide, Americans plan to travel an average of 816 miles.
In the air
The busiest days of the Thanksgiving travel period aren't before the holiday but after it, D/FW spokesman David Magaña said. On the following Sunday and Monday, more than 170,000 passengers are expected to pass through each day.
With DFW Connector road work going on near the airport's north entrance, Magaña said passengers should give themselves extra time before their flights. And as it did last year, the airport will offer terminal parking coupons worth $10 a day when its express lots are full, he said.
The Transportation Security Administration is adding more body scanners at D/FW terminals just as the busy holiday travel season begins.
Three advanced imaging machines are operating at Terminal D; one is used for training. By Thanksgiving, the TSA plans to have five more of the scanners, including in Terminal C. And in December, 15 scanners, with eventually one or two per checkpoint, should be installed. D/FW has 16 security checkpoints at its five terminals.
"The TSA has a mandate to ensure the safety of the traveling public, so we need to make sure that everyone is screened irregardless of who they are or if they work for the airport," TSA spokesman Luis Casanova said.
Magaña said the average wait time at the airport's checkpoints, even during peak times, is about three minutes or less.
The airport has worked with the TSA by adding tables and signs to make it easier for passengers to move through the checkpoints, he said.
Dallas Love Field does not have scanners, Casanova said, but he expects the airport to install the machines in 2011.
Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631