Planning to travel for Thanksgiving holiday?

Planning to travel for Thanksgiving? So are a few of your Carolinas neighbors - 1.85 million of them, in fact. And if your travel plans include flying, brace yourself for airport terminals that are a lot more crowded than last Thanksgiving.

Fares have climbed 15 percent to 20 percent over the past year, and there are higher fees for checking bags. Yet twice as many Carolinas residents are flying this Thanksgiving as in 2010, according to AAA Carolinas.

“Higher gasoline prices might have prompted more people to fly,” says David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas.

Lee Davis, a spokeswoman for Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, advises, “You’re packing your bags to travel -- remember to pack your patience, too.”

Airport officials say several of the most popular parking lots will be filled this week, but they promise there will be a parking spot somewhere for every traveler.

Parsons says the AAA expects almost 100,000 North Carolina residents and nearly 49,000 from South Carolina to fly to their destinations this year.

Those traveling by air -- and any motorists leaving for their destinations today or early Wednesday -- might encounter weather problems, too. A vigorous storm system crossing the eastern United States is expected to spread a variety of inclement weather, says Alex Sosnowski of Accu-Weather. That could create flight delays Wednesday.

However you travel this week, here's news to help you reach your destination safely and on time. Steve Lyttle


From parking to security, plan ahead

Meteorologists say a storm system crossing the country later today and Wednesday could cause flight delays, especially Wednesday in the Mid Atlantic and Northeast (see “Weather” section below).

The preparation begins when you buy your ticket. The TSA is phasing in a new security program, advising passengers to purchase their tickets with their full legal name and age. That way, the ticket/boarding pass will match the traveler’s ID at security checkpoints. If you do that, you’ll eliminate a possible slowdown at security.

“We are prepared this holiday season to keep passengers safe as they travel to see loved ones,” says TSA Administrator John Pistole.

Travelers also should remember three simple steps to security: Have IDs out, coats and shoes off, and laptops out for screening. More tips:

For parking information, go to the airport's website, . Allow extra time because you might have to park farther away than normal.

Allow extra time if you’re flying this week, because you might have to park farther than normal from the concourse. But Charlotte/Douglas will have shuttle buses running frequently from the lots to ticketing, Davis says.

Be ready to pay more for checking your bags. Many airlines are charging $20 now, although US Airways offers a $5 discount if you pay online in advance.

“We still recommend that you arrive at the airport two hours before your flight,” says Lee Davis of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. “And when you get to security, have your ticket and ID ready.”For those of you dropping off someone at the airport, Davis has a reminder -- don’t park in front of the concourse. “Not a good idea,” she says. Violators will run afoul of the law.

On the road

Gas prices down since summer

The news is good, if you’re comparing prices this week to what you paid for your summer travels. But if you’re comparing to last Thanksgiving, well, there isn’t much to be thankful for.

AAA says the average price for a gallon of regular gas in the Charlotte area is $3.34, which is down 26 cents from Labor Day weekend but up 53 cents from last Thanksgiving. The state-wide average in North Carolina is $3.35, and it’s $3.14 in South Carolina. Those averages also are down about a quarter from what you paid at Labor Day.

Oil industry experts say the declining gas prices in recent weeks is due to increased supply, thanks to the end of the civil war in Libya, and continued declined use by U.S. motorists, due to the sluggish economy.

Some other gas prices (according to AAA):

Asheville: $3.35; Boone: $3.40; Fayetteville: $3.31; Greensboro: $3.31; Raleigh: $3.35; Wilmington: $3.34.Charleston: $3.17; Columbia: $3.09; Myrtle Beach: $3.14; Spartanburg: $3.10.

Atlanta: $3.25; Birmingham: $3.17; Charleston, W.Va.: $3.38; Cincinnati: $3.22; Cleveland: $3.21; District of Columbia: $3.36; Jacksonville: $3.31; Nashville: $3.17; New York City area: $3.73; Orlando: $3.32; Philadelphia: $3.42; Pittsburgh: $3.43.

Highway construction halted

Most highway construction projects will be suspended, starting this afternoon, until Monday morning. That includes shutting down all this week the project to widen I-85 in Cabarrus County.

Police plan more patrols

You’ll see plenty of law enforcement patrol cars on the highways. And, police say, there also will be plenty of unmarked vehicles. Authorities say they’re not patrolling to write citations. “Our goal is to keep people safe,” says Col. Michael Gilchrist, commander of the N.C. Highway Patrol.

Troopers will be watching for speeders, aggressive drivers, and drunk drivers. But law enforcement across North Carolina is launching a “Click It or Ticket” campaign this week, designed to make sure motorists are wearing seat belts. Gilchrist says 88 percent of North Carolina drivers are wearing seat belts, according to a recent study. He is aiming at 100 percent compliance.

“The seat belt dramatically improves your chances,” he says. “It’s insurance against a serious crash.”

Sgt. Craig Bradshaw of the Monroe police says seat belt use changes the outcome of a crash. “I’ve seen crashes that I thought were not survivable,” he says. “Yet the people were wearing seat belts and escaped with a few scratches or cuts. But I’ve also seen relatively minor crashes where a person who wasn’t wearing a seat belt was seriously hurt or killed.”

State troopers wrote more than 129,000 seat belt violation tickets last year, incidentally. And troopers in South Carolina say they also will emphastically enforce highway laws this weekend.


Storms could snarl travel Wednesday

If you’re driving somewhere for Thanksgiving and leaving Wednesday, you might want to delay the departure until late morning or afternoon, meteorologists say. A storm system and cold front will cross the South today and early Wednesday, bringing the chance of severe storms in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee on Tuesday and heavy rain early Wednesday in the Carolinas northward into New York and New England.

“This will be a fast-moving system,” says Jeff Taylor, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C. “It will be moving off the coast by late Wednesday morning, so you might want to schedule your departure for a bit later Wednesday morning, after the system has moved to the east.”

“Motorists traveling through I-80, I-90 and I-95 in the Northeast are urged to have patience, pay attention to the road, and exercise caution,” adds Justin Roberti of Accu-Weather.

Another storm system is forecast to push across the same path Sunday, Taylor says. Motorists returning home Friday or Saturday should experience good weather, but it could be a stormy return trip Sunday, Taylor adds. Travelers should check weather forecasts over the weekend.

The Thanksgiving outlook for some places:

Carolinas beaches: Showers and storms move off the coast Wednesday afternoon, followed by nice weather (sunny, highs in the mid 60s) Thursday through Saturday. Showers return Sunday, especially later in the day.

Mountains: Rapidly improving weather Wednesday, followed by pleasant conditions Thursday through Saturday. Temperatures will be mild, but showers will return Sunday.

Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York: Rainy conditions, possibly with some flooding, Wednesday. Showers end late at night, followed by great weather into the weekend.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer