Holiday travel fairly routine

A few traffic snarls, long BWI lines mark Thanksgiving eve

`Quiet and uneventful day'

November 22, 2001|By Sarah Koenig, Johnathon E. Briggs and Tim Craig | Sarah Koenig, Johnathon E. Briggs and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

With visions of candied yams dancing in their heads - and some complaints escaping from their lips - thousands of travelers converged on Maryland's major exits yesterday, undeterred by fear of terrorists, long lines and a midday accident on Interstate 95.

Despite extra security at transportation hubs, which resulted in slow, snaking lines and disemboweled luggage, many passengers were surprised by the general absence of pandemonium.

Overall, fewer people than usual are expected to travel this Thanksgiving.

Officials at Baltimore-Washington International Airport predicted that it will accommodate 377,000 passengers during the week, with more than 66,000 on Sunday. That would be 8 percent fewer than last year's.

Maryland residents driving 50 miles or more for their turkey dinners are expected to number 610,213, 1.1 percent fewer than last year, said Myra Wieman, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Those who are traveling are going by car in record numbers, she said. Nationally, 87 percent of holiday travelers are expected to drive this week, 5 percent more than last year.

"Even though there's a decrease [in travel], it's not that big a decrease," Wieman said. "There's a lot of false security out there that you're going to get to where you're going quickly."

No one at BWI was under that misconception yesterday.

"This is the longest I've ever seen it," Tom Jacobs, 40, of Ellicott City said to his wife, Corby, 37, about the Southwest Airlines security line.

The Jacobses and their 4-month-old daughter, Aliza, and 3-year-old son, Ben, had been waiting nearly an hour to board their noon flight to Albany, N.Y.

They considered taking a train or driving, but the thought of a six-hour trip with two small children quickly erased that idea.

Like many people flying yesterday, they said they had few worries about security. "There have been lapses, but I haven't seen them," Tom Jacobs, who flies weekly from BWI on business, said as Maryland National Guard troops carrying M-16 rifles passed by.

Corby Jacobs said she was "a little nervous" about going through the security checkpoint. "I have a nail file that I usually carry, but I took that out," she said.

By the time the Jacobses' flight was set to take off, an accident on northbound Interstate 95 near Route 100 in Howard County stopped traffic for about 20 minutes and reduced it to a crawl for about an hour.

Greyhound bus driver Neal Mack got caught in the mess on his way from Washington to Atlantic City. "It's kind of like a parking lot out there," he said during a quick break at the Baltimore station.

Heading toward Delaware, a 13-mile rolling backup was reported at 2 p.m. between Exit 80, in central Harford County, and the Perryville toll plaza, just north of Delaware Memorial Bridge, as people stopped to pay the toll.

"It is probably just getting worse," said state police Sgt. Boyd Tranthan. "We've got signs up [alerting people], but there is nothing we can do about it."

On the Baltimore Beltway, traffic ran smoothly for most of the day and state police reported no major accidents.

"Strangely enough, it's been a very quiet and uneventful day with only a few minor accidents," said state police Communication Officer Terry Martindale.

At Baltimore's Greyhound bus station, grumpy travelers waiting to buy tickets spilled out the front door. Many people said they couldn't get tickets on Amtrak, which required reservations for the first time this holiday, or that Amtrak was too expensive. Others wanted to avoid the airport hassle or were afraid to fly.

Morgan State University students Dontae Creek, 19, and Cherae Robinson, 18, were bracing themselves for a 21-hour trip to Deltona, Fla., to see Robinson's grandmother. They had planned to drive but didn't buy a car in time.

Train tickets cost too much, and flying was out of the question for Creek. His cousin died in the Pentagon when a hijacked plane smashed into it Sept. 11.

"It just makes me not trust planes," he said. A fat chemistry textbook would occupy him for much of the bus trip, he said.

Station manager Kebede Tadesse said plane-shy passengers were welcome. "Honestly speaking, we are glad to see the crowd again," he said. "We are up at least 10 percent in volume."

Tadesse said he expected 2,500 to 3,000 people - mostly on their way to New York - to pass through the station yesterday.

Compared with the teeming bus terminal, Penn Station seemed like a museum showing an unpopular exhibit.

"This is the first time I've ever seen it like this on Thanksgiving," said Amtrak project manager Pamela Montgomery. "It's just deserted. Usually you can't see across the hall."

That's because everyone taking a train had to reserve seats in advance, eliminating the usual crush of last-minute passengers, said station manager Ken Wiedel.

Amtrak, which was expecting its usual 5,000 passengers in Baltimore yesterday, made the change as a security precaution and to cut down on complaints from people who end up standing when trains are too full.

The result was that some people, such as Beatrice Duggins, 42, and her 11-year-old son, Torian Davis, arrived two hours early for their five-hour train ride to Rocky Mount, N.C., expecting chaos.

Duggins, who commutes by train every day from Baltimore to her job at a Washington law firm, had been eyeing the crowds for the past two days. "At 6 o'clock yesterday it was a madhouse. I thought it would be like that," she said.

At BWI, Shaline Kirkland of Washington said she considered taking a train to New York.

But she was lucky, finding a one-way plane ticket three days ago on the Internet for $50.

She hadn't expected the frustratingly long airport line, though.

Kirkland said that once she reaches her family in Queens, the suffering will have been worthwhile.

"Everybody is drawing closer to family. There's a sense of unity," she said. "Besides, I can't wait for my mother's candied yams."

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