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Just how many travelers? 65 million Christmas crunch expected to bring forth record number to highways and airports

A record number of Americans -- about 65 million -- are expected to hit the highway or head to the airport over the next week or so, setting the stage for the busiest-ever Christmas travel period.

"All signs point to this being a record year for trips of 50 miles or more," said Wally Smith, vice president of the AAA of Western and Central New York. "We expect the trend to be as heavy here as anywhere else."

While the Thanksgiving travel period historically produces the largest daily volume of travel because of the limited number of travel days, the period of Christmas through New Year's sees more than a week of packed buses, trains, planes and motor vehicles.

A combination of relatively stable gasoline prices, an improved economy and availability of time off from work and school are expected to fuel travel plans.

"About 80 percent will travel by motor vehicle, so high gas prices can be a deterrent," Smith said. "We're at an average of $2.49 a gallon right now, which will not be a barrier to a longer car trip."

Current local weather forecasts might not be what Santa Claus would prefer, but a lack of snow and cold is perfect for holiday travelers.

"We're ready for the crunch," said Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Executive Director Lawrence M. Meckler.

"After the October storm, we're ready for just about anything," Meckler added, recalling the hundreds of stranded fliers who spent as many as three nights camped at Buffalo Niagara International Airport when the unexpected snow and sleet knocked out power and canceled all flights.

Historically, Dec. 23 and 24 are hectic days at the Buffalo airport as outbound passengers head off to visit family and friends, or enjoy warm-weather destinations. Florida remains the No. 1 destination for Western New Yorkers flying out at this time of the year.

Things get hectic again Dec. 26-29. The NFTA anticipates that 8,500 to 9,000 travelers a day will pass through the airport on those peak days, up from a nonholiday peak volume of about 6,500.

The NFTA is planning for an extra-special arrival Dec. 29, when the airport's 5 millionth flier of the year is expected to walk through the gates. The agency will hold a celebration marking the first time it has handled 5 million travelers in a single calendar year.

As it did at Thanksgiving, the federal Transportation Security Administration is reminding airline passengers of the revised rules for transporting liquids and gels in carry-on luggage. Under the new regulations, such items as shampoos, lotions, toothpaste, perfumes and even beverages exceeding 3 ounces are not allowed past the security checkpoint.

The TSA urges fliers follow the "3-1-1" rule to speed the security clearance process: Carry only small bottles of these substances that will fit in a single, clear, one-quart plastic bag. Liquid medicines, baby formula, breast milk and eye drops are exempt from the 3-ounce restriction.

Air travelers are also reminded not to pack wrapped gifts, as they also will add to inspection time.


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