Detroit Metro eases into Thanksgiving travel

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — Thanksgiving festivities got a head start Wednesday at the arrivals area of Detroit Metro's McNamara terminal, with The Parade Co.'s Distinguished Clown Corps serving as a welcome brigade.

About 20 clowns gathered for several hours, armed with beaded necklaces and shouts of "Happy Thanksgiving" and "Welcome to Detroit!"

This was the fifth or sixth year the corps has descended on the airport on the day before Thanksgiving, according to John Landis, a 26-year veteran of the organization.

"It started out with about five or six of us and now it's about 20," he said. "Our bosses think we're working today."

The group encouraged arrivals to come out Thursday for the parade, in which about 180 clowns will march.

"My family is originally from here, and we're back for the holidays," said Tom Myers of Arlington, Va., shortly after his family was welcomed by the corps. "It was fun for the kids to come off the plane and see the wall of clowns."

Madeline Myers, 7, from Arlington, Va., gets a visit from Parade Co. clown Ron Sheets  of Rochester while at Detroit Metro Airport.

The airport eased into one of the busiest days of the year Wednesday with short lines and quick security checkpoints for travelers at the McNamara Terminal.

Most Delta flights departed on time through early Wednesday afternoon, with four flights canceled.

Delta flights cancelled as of 3 p.m. Wednesday were #5389 to Manchester, New Hampshire scheduled for 2 p.m., #3750 to Newburgh, New York at 2:03 p.m., #3702 to White Plains, New York, #3703 also to White Plains at 5:47 p.m., and #3468 to Escabana at 7:50 p.m.

Passengers had their pick of kiosks and the wait to check bags and go through security was just minutes long.

"I was expecting chaos the day before Thanksgiving," said Detroit resident William McLeod, 44, early Wednesday. "But it's going smooth."

McLeod was heading to South Carolina with his wife and kids to visit family.

Amy Zampi, 34, Ann Arbor, and her children, from left,  Emma, 3, Ben, 5, and Maggie, 1,  wait for their flight  to Greenville, S.C., on the busiest travel day of the year,  at the McNamara Terminal in Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan on November 26, 2014.
  Charles V. Tines, The Detroit News.

"We usually go (to South Carolina) during the summertime," said daughter Paris McLeod, 19. "We're going now to get out of this weather."

Tens of thousands of travelers were expected to pass through the airport Wednesday on their way to Thanksgiving festivities, according to airport spokesman Brian Lassaline.

At the McNamara terminal, many of those travelers passed through on connecting flights, leaving the check-in and security lines clear.

"Delta operates a connecting hub here, so a lot of their travelers aren't leaving from Detroit or coming to Detroit," Lassaline said. "They're passing through (and) are already beyond the screening checkpoints. "

Steve Paredes and his wife, Laura, said they purposely selected an early flight Wednesday to avoid possible crowds later in the day.

"And people seem to be driving more," said Paredes, who was traveling to Texas to visit family with his wife and two young daughters. "I think people are intimidated that (the airport) is going to be crazy. It's like that great restaurant that's empty because everyone is afraid it's going to be crowded."

Toby Lewis, 34, and her two boys, Casey, 12, and Ian, 10, from Ann Arbor, wait in line at the Delta counter in the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan on November 26, 2014.  They are traveling to Massachusetts to visit her mother.

Newlyweds David and Tiffany Diep arrived at Metro just after 9 a.m. Wednesday after a morning of smooth traveling from their home in Suffolk, Va. The couple, who were married in July, departed from Norfolk International Airport.

"That airport is never busy," said Tiffany Diep, 26. "I was complaining that the line was moving too fast because I couldn't get my stuff together."

After visiting Tiffany's family in Brownstown Township, the couple plans to return to Metro Airport early Sunday to beat crowds expected as travelers head home after the holiday.

"We're getting here really early," said David Diep, 32. "Like six or seven in the morning."

Wednesday and Sunday each are expected to average close to 100,000 passengers at Metro, according to airport spokesman Michael Conway.

"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 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.

According to AAA, air travel is expected to climb this year 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.

But most Michigan travelers will opt to take a car, according to AAA Michigan.

More than 89 percent of Michigan travelers will use their automobile for Thanksgiving travel, and 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, said Susan Hiltz, public affairs director for AAA Michigan.

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.

"The economy is picking up so more people are traveling," Hiltz said. "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.