Holiday travelers crowded Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and interstate highways on one of the busiest days of the year on regional roadways.
Beautiful weather and dropping gasoline prices greeted the hundreds of thousands of Carolinas residents who hit the road Wednesday for Thanksgiving trips.
AAA Carolinas said 45 percent of Thanksgiving travelers were on the road Wednesday. The next-biggest day is Sunday, when 36 percent return home.
Those motorists are finding gasoline prices lower than last Thanksgiving. The average price in North Carolina is $3.30, which is about 6 cents below levels of Thanksgiving 2011. Charlotte’s prices are around $3.25. Prices are even lower in neighboring South Carolina ($3.13), Virginia ($3.23) and Tennessee ($3.16).
Police will be highly visible on roadways, however.
State police in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia say they have extra patrols on duty this weekend. The N.C. Highway Patrol says troopers will be watching for motorists who are not wearing seat belts or are speeding. A similar crackdown is planned in South Carolina.
It was a busy day-before-Thanksgiving at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, but no major problems were being reported Wednesday afternoon for air travelers.
More than 25,000 people were expected to fly out of the airport on the day before Thanksgiving.
Long lines formed at ticket counters several hours before daybreak Wednesday, as passengers heeded the advice of airport officials to arrive early for their flights.
Security checkpoints opened at 4:15 a.m., and by 5 a.m., all four checkpoints open at the time had travelers lined up. But the lines appeared to be moving.
“It’s going smooth so far,” one US Airways employee said. “Hope it stays that way.”
The only problem Wednesday morning was for people flying to Chicago. Dense fog was being reported at that city’s two airports, and flights to Chicago from Charlotte were being delayed about 90 minutes. That could cause problems for travelers planning to get connecting flights in the Windy City.
The fog dissipated by midday, but the delays continued. By 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, significant delays also were being reported at airports in Newark and St. Louis.
Otherwise, however, the flight schedule was remarkably smooth. At midday, there were no delays of more than 20 minutes, other than the Chicago flights.
At noon, about 20 people were in line at most of the ticket stations, with similar lines at the security checkpoints.
The Thanksgiving holiday got off to a bad start for a few dozen travelers who missed connecting flights Tuesday evening and had to sleep overnight in the airport terminal. One woman, who had missed a connecting flight to New Orleans, said she slept well but is looking forward to making her next flight Wednesday morning.
The volume of traffic became heavy enough for airport officials to open Checkpoint E – the newest security portal – about 6:45 a.m.
“A lot of the people who we see this weekend are once- or twice-a-year travelers,” said Lee Davis, a spokeswoman for the airport. “They aren’t that familiar with the whole process.”
Plenty of people will be trying to make it easier for you. The airport’s Davis, US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr and TSA Charlotte security chief Mark Haught said they have extra staffers working.
Mohr said US Airways even provides dinner for its employees on Thanksgiving Day.
“I always help serve,” she says.