Many find air was the way to travel for Thanksgiving

Plane passengers pleased, but those on trains, buses report long lines

December 01, 2003|By Sandy Alexander and Molly Knight | Sandy Alexander and Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

THEY MEET — Some things are easily associated with Thanksgiving: turkey, football, and, come Sunday, the frustration of travel as hundreds of thousands of holiday pilgrims head home from their four-day weekend.

They meet - or at least get jammed together - in airport, train and bus terminals, and traffic backups at toll plazas, evidence of the annual predictions that more people are traveling. This year, AAA Mid-Atlantic said 3 percent more people would be out there.

How bad was it?

"It was hellish," said Adriana Jones, a medical student at University of Maryland, who traveled from New York to Baltimore on a midmorning train. "We were stuffed into cars with no leg room, and my sister and I got separated."

But other travelers were pleasantly surprised by short lines at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and better-than-expected conditions on the roads.

At Baltimore's Penn Station, many passengers, like Jones, were displeased at a shortage of seats on trains. And by 3 p.m., the line at the taxicab stand had grown to at least 100 people - many of them complaining about their journey.

Dan Raposa, 20, could not find a seat on the jam-packed train he took to Baltimore from Philadelphia, where he was visiting his family for the holiday.

"I stood the entire way," said Raposa, a student at the Johns Hopkins University. "[Amtrak employees] said they would find us a seat, but they didn't."

Amtrak, which saw an 11 percent increase in ridership last month, stepped up its services in anticipation of the holiday rush. Expecting more than 300,000 passengers in the Northeast between Wednesday and today, it operated 70 additional trains - adding 40,000 seats - for travel between Washington and Boston. From each of these cities, the company offered 40 more departures than it did last Thanksgiving.

Bus travel was just as hectic. At the Baltimore Travel Plaza on O'Donnell Street, there were lines for tickets and food, and packed buses.

Emre Edev spent an hour and a half waiting to board a bus back to his home in New York City.

"The line wasn't even moving. It was absolutely nuts in there," said Edev, 24, who finally called friends to pick him up and take him to Penn Station, where he hoped to take a train home.

Next year, Edev said, he is avoiding ground transportation. "Flying is just a million times easier," he said.

Many passengers at BWI Airport agreed. "I was expecting lots of people," said Theola Moore, who was pleased with her trips to and from Atlanta, where she attended a nephew's wedding.

Moore, who was also traveling with her brother, grandmother, another nephew and a cousin, said the group got up at 6 a.m. yesterday and headed to the Atlanta airport to try and beat the crowds. "It took us less than 15 minutes to get our tickets," she said, and the airline was helpful and friendly when Moore's sister-in-law lost her identification.

"We caught early flights. That made a big difference," she said.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, BWI proved to be surprisingly calm, with ticket lines moving quickly and short waits at security checkpoints.

Jonathan Dean, a BWI spokesman, estimated that the airport had about 640,000 passengers between Wednesday and yesterday - which would be an 8 percent increase over last year.

"We actually just completed the construction of four additional checkpoint lanes, which clearly had a positive impact," Dean said. BWI also increased staff in anticipation of Sunday travel, stationed volunteers in the terminals to help passengers locate departure areas, and used extra Maryland Transportation Authority Police officers - including new recruits - to help direct traffic.

Turquoise Dorsey, a nursing student at Temple University in Philadelphia, said she had no trouble getting to BWI on a morning flight from New Orleans. "It wasn't too crowded," Dorsey said of BWI - at least inside the terminal.

She had to sit for more than an hour there, watching out a window for her boyfriend to pick her up.

"He's stuck in traffic," she said.

Despite some congestion, the traffic on area highways was not as bad as anticipated. State police reported that traffic was heavy, but was moving.

"People have been leaving at different points all day," said Sgt. William Vogt, a state police spokesman - which resulted in an improvement over stand-stills many motorists faced as they tried to get away Wednesday.

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