Nearly 2 million Carolinas residents will be on the go this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and authorities say they are doing everything possible to make it a smooth trip.
The weather and gasoline prices will add to the ease of Thanksgiving travel.
The AAA estimates about 43.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more for the holiday, up 0.7 percent from a year ago. Similar numbers are forecast in the Carolinas, where about 1.24 million North Carolina residents and 611,000 from South Carolina traveled for Thanksgiving in 2011.
About 90 percent of the travel will happen on roadways, but about 100,000 people from the Carolinas will fly to their Thanksgiving destinations.
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Mark Haught, federal security director in Charlotte for the Transportation Security Administration, says three changes in screening policy will make it easier for air travelers this year. He says the youngest and oldest passengers won’t need to take off their shoes at security checkpoints, and the start of a pre-check screening process will decrease the size of lines.
“And we have opened a new security checkpoint at Charlotte Douglas International Airport,” Haught adds.
Still, he adds, large crowds are expected Wednesday and again next Monday at Charlotte’s airport. Passengers are encouraged to arrive two hours before their scheduled departures.
Those driving to their destinations will find that highway construction projects in the Carolinas will be suspended over the weekend. The N.C. Highway Patrol says it will step up enforcement of seat-belt and other laws, in an effort to keep the roads safe.
Weather is expected to be dry and mild across most of the United States, except for the West Coast. And gasoline prices have dropped about 35 cents a gallon over the past month, leaving this year’s prices lower than for Thanksgiving 2011.
Here is what to expect this Thanksgiving for travel:
Hitting the road
More than 1.8 million Carolinas residents are expected to drive 50 or more miles. The busiest travel times will be Wednesday, especially from noon to 8 p.m., and again Sunday. Heavy travel also is likely Saturday.
“We want everyone to make it home safely,” N.C. Transportation Secretary Gene Conti says.
That, he adds, is why police will have extra patrols throughout the weekend.
Average prices for a gallon of regular gasoline are $3.30 in North Carolina (down from $3.36 last Thanksgiving and $3.64 a month ago) and $3.11 in South Carolina (down from $3.16 last year and $3.43 a month ago).
Charlotte has some of the lowest prices in North Carolina, with the AAA reporting the average price for a gallon of regular at $3.26. That compares to $3.30 in Raleigh; $3.35 in Wilmington; and $3.40 in Asheville. As usual, South Carolina prices are lower – ranging from $3.05 in Myrtle Beach to $3.10 in Columbia and $3.18 in Charleston.
Traveling elsewhere in the region? Some gas prices include $3.08 in Knoxville; $3.14 in Roanoke; $3.16 in Nashville; $3.19 in Richmond; $3.25 in Atlanta; and $3.51 in Washington.
Charlotte Douglas International officials say they have more than 25,000 parking spaces available, despite current construction on a new parking facility. The airport provides real-time parking conditions at http://parking.charlotteairport.com.
Passengers can be dropped off and picked up along the terminal’s curbside, but vehicles cannot be left unattended. If you’re picking up family or friends, airport officials encourage you to use the free cellphone lot, which is on the car rental road. You can wait there until passengers arrive and call you.
Inside the airport
Officials say travelers should arrive two hours before scheduled departure. They expect about 25,000 travelers Wednesday and between 25,000 and 27,000 next Monday. Travelers are encouraged to print out their boarding passes before leaving home.
Once at the airport, the big challenge typically is dealing with security checkpoint lines. The new Checkpoint E gives Charlotte Douglas International 20 security lanes at five checkpoints.
A tip from the TSA’s Haught: “Use Checkpoint E. It’s in a more open area of the airport, and there are five (security) lines,” he says.
Haught says many travelers think they must use the checkpoint nearest their gate, but that is not the case.
“If your flight is at Gate A or B, for example, you can still go through security at Checkpoint E, then walk to your gate,” he says.
Security checkpoints will open at 4:15 a.m. Wednesday, and the airport and TSA will have extra staff members working.
Passengers 12 and younger or 75 and older will not have to take off their shoes at checkpoints. The TSA has launched a pre-check screening process, but that is for frequent flyers. Still, Haught says, having some travelers using the pre-check lines could shorten the lines at the regular checkpoints.
Unlike some recent years, the weather is expected to be a nonfactor for travelers – except for those headed to the West Coast. Stormy weather – strong winds, heavy rain and mountain snow – is forecast through Wednesday from San Francisco northward into Canada. The rest of the country is forecast to enjoy benign conditions.
Those who are driving might encounter morning fog Wednesday in the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee, but it is expected to be mild and dry otherwise.
Weather in the Northeast will be windy, dry and cool, with dry conditions also forecast for the Midwest and Southeast. A few showers are possible Wednesday morning in the upper Midwest, however.