Travelers to jam rail, air and roads
The biggest travel days of the year — the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend — are expected to crowd highways, pack airlines and jam trains heading in and out of the Metro Detroit region.
Even with the possibility of inclement weather in the Midwest, representatives from various transit companies are encouraging travelers to book plans right away because planes, buses and trains are expected to be stuffed with passengers.
There’s good and bad news for travelers this holiday season: For drivers, gas prices have fallen to their lowest levels in five years. AAA projects that 46.3 million motorists — 1.5 million from Michigan — will be on the roads next weekend, increases from last year. But airline prices are climbing.
“The economy is picking up so more people are traveling,” said Susan Hiltz, public affairs director for AAA Michigan. “Lower gas prices make it easier for people to travel farther distances.”
Thanksgiving holiday travel is anticipated to climb to its highest level since 2007, just in time for gas prices to drop 35 cents from last year to an average of $2.92 a gallon, according to projections by AAA Michigan.
Hiltz said Michigan is expected to beat the national average with close to a 5 percent climb in overall motorists compared with a 4.2 percent nationally. More than 89 percent of Michigan travelers will use their automobile for Thanksgiving travel.
With more motorists on the road, Hiltz said “we really are concerned about people being extra safe in the holiday season and making it safe for everybody. We’re hoping that the weather forecast is clear.”
To deal with the anticipated demand, Amtrakhas added 18 trains for its Wolverine route between Michigan and Chicago.
“The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is our single busiest day of the year. And right behind it is the Sunday after Thanksgiving,” said Marc Magliari, a Chicago-based spokesman for Amtrak. “They are both important days for us.
Magliari acknowledged that Amtrak’s on-time performance has been criticized in recent years but that the company “has been transparent” with the numbers to the public and is working to make the experience pleasant for holiday passengers.
“For a lot of people, being on an Amtrak train that’s slightly delayed still beats the heck out of being on I-94, especially given what wacky weather we’re having around here,” Magliari said.
AAA says that air travel is expected to climb, too, despite a 1 percent increase in airfares, mid-range hotels rising 8 percent and car rentals spiking 10 percent. Air travel will be up to its highest level since 2007, officials estimate, with more than 110,000 Michigan fliers among the 3.55 million across the country.
At Detroit Metropolitan Airport, officials say they are also bracing for higher numbers of travelers. Michael Conway, airport spokesman, said the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the following Sunday each will average close to 100,000 passengers.
“The (Transportation Security Administration) increases their staffing at passenger screen checkpoints and the airlines typically will boost their check-in personnel,” Conway said. “We typically will have more police presence at the curbs to control traffic.”
Conway said that Metro can manage larger passenger traffic because the airport has six runways and large ticket lobbies. “This is the kind of increase we can easily handle here,” he said. “We have plenty of passenger screening capacity, plenty of check-in capacity, plenty of runways.”
Airport officials offered tips to travelers: arrive early; remove prohibited items from your bag prior to arriving; and do not leave vehicles unattended when picking up or dropping someone off, officials said.
For travelers who want to avoid a plane or train, Megabus has become an alternative mode of travel — a double-decked vehicle with reclining seats, WiFi and power outlets. Fares range from $1, $5 and $8 to $75 for a one-way trip.
Megabus officials say seats are still available for the holiday.
“We’ve had double-digit increases almost every year and this year advance bookings not only for Thanksgiving but for Christmas are looking pretty good, too,” said Mike Alvich, vice president of marketing for Megabus.com. “We are meeting our expectations and we’re slightly ahead of last year.”
Motorists making the trek by car won’t encounter much road construction. The few remaining projects are in St. Clair County with construction on the I-94 and I-69 interchange on the Blue Water Bridge.
“Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday because you can have a lot cross-town traffic with people going to see family that are local and others going to see family out of state,” said Rob Morosi, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, which manages the roads.
Gas Prices: According to AAA Michigan, the average gas price is $2.92 per gallon, down from $3.27 for Thanksgiving last year. Nationwide the average is $2.85 per gallon, lower than $3.28 in 2013.
Weather forecast: According to the seven-day forecast from the National Weather Service station in White Lake Township, there is a 30 percent chance of snow showers on Thanksgiving day in Metro Detroit with highs in the mid 30s. On Wednesday, the forecast calls for mostly clouds with a high in the mid 30s.