Tuesday’s travel is hectic ... and now comes the tough part

Thanksgiving travel kicked into high gear Tuesday, amid signs that operations at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and on the Southeast’s roadways went smoothly.

Now comes the tough part – doing it all again Wednesday, with more people traveling and the added obstacle of a snowstorm up the East Coast.

“So far, so good,” Herbert Judon, assistant director of aviation operations at the airport, said around midday Tuesday. “But we know the weather might be an issue Wednesday.”

Actually, conditions worsened later Tuesday afternoon, as the number of passengers arriving at the airport increased. At 5 p.m., traffic on the main road leading into the airport was stop-and-go, with some motorists waiting 20 to 30 minutes to reach the new hourly parking deck or the main terminal.

About 20,000 passengers were expected to fly from Charlotte on Tuesday.

Even bigger crowds are likely Wednesday, as the day before Thanksgiving traditionally is the busiest travel day of the year. About 30,000 people are expected to fly from Charlotte on Wednesday.

Aviation officials are preparing for the possibility of widespread canceled flights – especially at airports from Washington and Baltimore north to Boston. Road crews in areas where heavy snow is forecast to fall – the North Carolina mountains and the corridor from central Virginia to Maine – also are preparing.

“We have a lot of additional resources out,” Judon said. “You’ll see an army of traffic control officers, and a lot of people inside the terminal ready to help.”

Dina McHugh of Florence, S.C., drove to the airport Tuesday morning with family members to catch a flight to Chicago.

“It was smooth,” she said. “No problems. There was plenty of parking, everything was well-marked, and people were there to help us.”

Katie Cody, of American/US Airways, said: “We’ve done everything we can to prepare,” adding that de-icing trucks and de-icing chemicals are in good supply.

AAA Carolinas estimates that 1.8 million Carolinas residents will travel 50 or more miles for Thanksgiving, and about 90 percent of those will drive. Some travel officials encouraged people who were planning to leave Wednesday to do so Tuesday, before the storm’s arrival in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

“In most cases, the worst time to travel in the Mid-Atlantic and New England will be on Wednesday and Wednesday night,” said meteorologist Elliot Abrams of AccuWeather. He said those who didn’t leave Tuesday for destinations in those areas should consider postponing trips until Thanksgiving Day.

Joanne Stratton Tate of Charlotte is among those planning to drive Wednesday to the Washington area.

“We’ll take the I-95 route, rather than drive I-81 through Virginia,” she said, adding that relatives in the D.C. area advised them to avoid inland Virginia, which is under a winter storm warning Wednesday and Wednesday night. “We’re hoping to avoid most of the snow, although they’re supposed to get some in Washington.”

Airport officials urged travelers to arrive early Wednesday because lines at ticket booths and security gates will be lengthy. Motorists are encouraged to pay attention to weather forecasts and road conditions.