by Xinhua writers Ma Qian, Yang Shilong
NEW YORK, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- Jam-packed airports, snarling tailbacks on the interstate highways, and a grand total of an estimated over 54-million travelers... America's largest annual migration is now underway.
The 2018 Thanksgiving holiday, basically running from Wednesday through Sunday, will witness travel volume reaching new high since 2005, with 54.3 million Americans hitting the road, skies, rail and waterway, a 4.8 percent increase over last year, according to AAA, a U.S. not-for-profit organization of services and information on travel, insurance, financial and automotive.
BUSIEST THANKSGIVING TRAVEL
Some 48.5 million Americans are projected to take on a road trip, while 4.27 million will be getting to their destinations by airplane and the remaining 1.48 million by trains, buses and cruise ships.
Raven Xu, an architecture student doing internship in Brooklyn, was among the swarms of Thanksgiving holiday travelers. When Xu booked her ticket online, she found the prices rose by 70-80 U.S. dollars than normal. To avoid traffic jam, she left home one hour earlier than usual to catch her Wednesday night flight to Chicago.
Bill Sutherland, AAA Travel senior vice president, attributed this year's record-high amount of travelers to three major factors, namely, higher wages, more disposable income and rising levels of household wealth.
"This is translating into more travelers kicking off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway, building on a positive year for the travel industry," Sutherland said in a written statement.
This Thanksgiving, the biggest growth in travelers is projected to appear in air travel. A whopping sum of 30.6 million passengers will travel on U.S. airlines during the Thanksgiving holiday, an estimated 29 million passengers more than the previous year, projected by Airlines for America, an U.S. airline trade organization.
#ThanksgivingTravel has become a hot hashtag on social media sites since Monday. Local netizens uploaded quite a few video clips to record their experiences at the world's busiest airports in the United States.
On early Wednesday morning, passengers packed the security check of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Georgia, shown in several video footage on Twitter. Beside the nearby elevators, another passengers line was stretching all the way down towards the entry. When there was a little room closer to the security line, these folks got to move a bit.
In the immediate New York metropolitan area, La Guardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International (JFK) are among the busiest transportation hubs for Thanksgiving travel. About 737,500 passengers will use JFK, while 385,200 are expected at La Guardia, according to a forecast by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Major U.S. airlines have started to gear up for the Thanksgiving rush since last week. American Airlines have been prepping for an estimated seven million customers during a 12-day holiday travel period, which it defined as from Nov. 16 to Nov. 27.
With an estimated 4.7 million customers flying through Monday, Delta Airlines has launched its Peach Corps team to assist with terminal meet-n-greet, way-finding, kiosk assist, wheelchair assistance and other customer service touch points.
The team consists of hundreds of Delta employee-volunteers to help passengers at the Atlanta airport, its busiest hub. The airline projected that a peak day will come on Sunday, when nearly 650,000 customers will take to the skies on Delta flights worldwide.
CONGESTED HIGHWAYS, BUMPY RIDE
Bumper-to-bumper traffic has been seen since Tuesday night in metropolitan cities, including San Francisco, New York City and Boston, where drivers are expected to suffer the longest delays.
Driving times for travelers there are projected to quadruple, as everyone heads out or in to gather with their loved ones, according to INRIX, a global mobility analytics company.
"Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different," Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX, told media.
Local media are circulating "the worst and best times" to hit the road and air, which were analyzed by multiple travel companies and Google Maps, in a bid to help travelers better go through the intense traffic across the country.
Based on historical and recent travel trends, experts predicted drivers would bump into the greatest congestion during the early evening commute period this week. Travel times will also obviously increase on Sunday, as most holiday travelers will be making their way home after the long weekend.
Apart from drivers, AAA predicted that there would also be 360,000 motorists at the roadside this Thanksgiving. The motor and leisure travel company pointed out dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires as the main troubles for road riders, reminding them to reduce the chances of a breakdown by doing better vehicle checks and inspections.
Aging U.S. roads and bridges have worsened the heavy traffic during bustling holiday seasons. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation's overall infrastructure a grade of D+ in its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, adding that an estimated total investment of 4.59 trillion dollars would be required to lift the U.S. infrastructure from a D+ to a B grade.
Yet construction costs for fixing and rebuilding bridges, tunnels and highways continued to rise, due to a tight labor market and higher steel prices caused by Washington's tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from its key allies in Europe and North America.
Instead of driving or riding home, plenty of people resorted to public transport this Thanksgiving.
"We see more people than ever taking our trains," said an officer at the information desk of the Chicago Union Station, the third-busiest rail terminal in the United States after Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in New York City.
Outside the station, there are distant buses heading for adjacent states like Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Due to the heavy traffic pressure, the station witnessed a rarely-seen situation on Wednesday.
A host of passengers were waiting on board a bus with route number 67788, which was heading to Madison, capital of Wisconsin. While some people already had got printed tickets, others asked bus conductor to issue the tickets, which would be paid by cash.
"This scene is not always to be seen here. I already booked the ticket online two weeks ago," 63-year-old Marilyn Jackson told Xinhua. As a resident of the city's south side, she was leaving Chicago for Indianapolis to spend holiday with her 95-year-old mother and a big family there.
"The most important time is family get-together. I can cook good food for my family... It's time to have family reunion, and I've taken the bus home for 13 years," she said.
TRAVEL LESS PAINFUL THANKS TO NEW TECHNOLOGIES
Inside the station's waiting room, there was a huge line of over 100 people waiting for Amtrak Train No. 352, which traveled from Chicago to Pontiac of Michigan.
Amtrak was expecting to receive strong ridership throughout the weekend, said Marc Magliari, a spokesman for the agency. While Wednesday was thought as a busy travel day, Sunday tends to be a lot busier as people rush home, he said.
To make the holiday trip as smooth as possible, a full complement of staff, including customer service representatives at major airports, police officers at main facilities and toll collectors at tunnels and bridges, has been set in place, the Port Authority said in a note to media.
New technologies have been utilized this year to ensure security and improve traveler experience. More than a dozen of America's largest airports have automated screening lanes, according to local media reports.
Coppered tomography X-ray scanners have been seen at the checkpoints of 16 airports to enhance threat detection capabilities. In Atlanta, it's reported that new biometrics technology has also been used to verify passengers' identities.
As the number of passengers to be screened at its checkpoints across the country is expected to be "extremely high," securing the travel of millions of passengers remains a top priority for Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
"We face an adaptive and agile enemy who is persistent on targeting the airline industry and transportation in general," said Andrea R. Mishoe, TSA's Federal Security Director for Maryland, in a statement, "which is why we continue to work daily with our airline and airport partners, to strengthen and expand security screening procedures."
(Wang Ping, Xu Jing in Chicago, Ye Zaiqi in San Franciso also contributed to the report.)