Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for turkey - and travel. But this year, many far-flung families coming together for the holiday have reconsidered their travel plans. Fewer people are flying and more are taking trains and buses. They're also getting in cars in record numbers and driving long distances. Changes in holiday travel are accompanied by changes in the way officials are handling issues of security and safety. But they also spell changes in the culture of travel, as 90.3 WCPN's Karen Schaefer reports.
Karen Schaefer- Since September 11, many Americans have been more cautious about travel, especially by plane. But it's clear that people are traveling this Thanksgiving holiday, even if they're not getting to grandma's house in the usual way. The American Automobile Association reports that air travel is down 25% from last year. Although officials at Continental Airlines report they've seen a gradual increase in passengers since 9-11, they admit the number of flights leaving out of their Cleveland Hopkins hub is still smaller than normal.
Nonetheless, on a Tuesday morning the airport terminal was already crowded with holiday travelers. Many say the attraction was cheap deals on airfare. Others - like this elderly Cleveland couple - say flying is their only option.
Wife- To Salt Lake City. I'm a little more hesitant, but it's okay.
Husband- I have no fear for the airplane.
KS- Heightened security may be another reason why many of these travelers are willing to take to the air. But for others, long security delays are a good reason to try another form of transportation this year. On Amtrak there are no additional guards or baggage checks, although passengers must present a photo ID to board the train. Amtrack officials won't speculate on how many travelers they'll carry this holiday weekend. But they have added more than 2,000 seats to Midwest routes and trains are running mostly full.
At the Cleveland Lakefront station, only a half dozen passengers were waiting to catch the Pennsylvanian bound for Chicago on a rainy Monday evening. And none of them chose rail over air travel for safety's sake. But these two homeward-bound college students say they boarded Amtrak for the convenience and the cost - even though the train was 45 minutes late.
Male Student- I'm going to Elkhart and then going up to Kalamazoo, Michigan. And I kind of like the lounge car and, like, doing my schoolwork, and putting it in the computer and stuff. Got some area to spread out.
Female Student- I'm going home. I live about two and a half hours west of Chicago, so I'm going to Chicago tonight. It's actually about the same price as taking the airplane.
KS- Cost is also a factor for many regular bus riders. Greyhound reports unusual increases this year in both the number of advance bookings and the distance passengers are going. At the Cleveland terminal, most riders are going Greyhound because it's cheaper than trains or planes.
Bus Rider- 'Cause home's in Pittsburgh and it's just always the way I've gone. If I go to the airport, it ends up taking just the same amount of time, so this is cheaper and just as fast.
KS- But at least one family - a mother, two small children, a grandmother, and mounds of baggage - are making the 3-day cross-country trek by bus because of the September attacks.
Mom- The way the planes are going, I'd rather not take a plane, even though the rates are lower right now. I'd rather make it there than not at all.
Grandmother- Oh yeah! A bus trip across the country, sure! Sign me up! Not!
KS- But by far the majority of Americans are traveling by car this year. AAA projects a record 87% of travelers hitting the highways. While Hertz and other auto agencies report a small increase in rentals to non-flyers, most people are getting into their own cars to go over the river and through the woods.
At the Towpath Service Plaza on the Ohio Turnpike south of Cleveland, cars stream in to fill the parking lot at dinnertime on a Tuesday night. Most folks say they normally travel by car at Thanksgiving, although highways are busier this year than last. The National Safety Council is predicting 532 traffic deaths nationwide this weekend and state troopers will have 80% of their officers out watching the roads. But that hasn't stopped the Arner family from Illinois from enjoying the ride.
Joe Arner- Joe Arner and Tammy and Joelle and Rachel. Actually we're traveling by car just because it's more economical for us and we had a stop to make on the way in Lansing and we're on our way to Maryland. So we're just kind of making stops as we go. And we were just talking about that before we stopped here. You can't really pull off the side of the road if you're in an airplane somewhere and take in some of the sights, so that's really why we're traveling by car.
KS- What do you like to do in the car while you're driving?
Joelle- We like to read books.
KS- How about you? What do you like to do in the car?
Rachel- Listen to tapes.
KS- You look like you're having a good time.
JA- We are. We're having a great time. Just making things work with your family again.
KS- No matter how people are traveling this holiday weekend, they all say they're looking forward to getting together with family and friends. Some are already considering how they'll travel at Christmas. But this year, most travelers will be giving thanks just for arriving safely. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN News.