Expect large crowds during Thanksgiving travel

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Holiday travelers, start your engines.

It’s about to get jam-packed on the roads, rails and in the air this Thanksgiving holiday season, which runs Wednesday through Sunday. AAA projects more than 50 million nationally will travel, and more than 1.6 million Michiganians plan to be on a Thanksgiving road trip — a 3.5 percent increase over last year. It will be the eighth consecutive year of growth for Thanksgiving travel in Michigan.

Madison Pisani, 4, in purple, talks with her mother, Beth Pisani, 38, left, of Dallas, while waiting for luggage with Olivia Pisani, 7, and father Mike Pisani, 39, right, at the North Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Mich. on Nov 20, 2017. Crawling at bottom left is Colton Pisani, 2. The parents grew up in Rochester Hills and the family is visiting for Thanksgiving.

And according to AAA, the vast majority — nearly 90 percent — of Michigan holiday travelers will drive this Thanksgiving. Air travel is expected to increase about 6 percent, and travel by other modes of transportation, says AAA, will increase about 1.2 percent, with more than 45,900 travelers choosing cruises, trains and buses.

“A strong economy, rising incomes and higher consumer confidence are helping fuel some of the highest Michigan travel numbers we’ve seen in a decade,” AAA spokeswoman Susan Hiltz said.

Be prepared to pay about $2.60 a gallon, according to AAA. That’s 49 cents more than this same time last year, and 51 cents more than the average price on Thanksgiving Day 2016.

And the weather in Metro Detroit might hold out with only a chance for showers being on Tuesday evening.

“It’s looking good for any kind of travel,” National Weather Service meteorologist Sara Pampreen said. “At least in our area.”

On Wednesday, the forecast is sunny skies with a high of 36 and a low of 27. On Thanksgiving Day, it will again be mostly sunny with a high of 38 and a low of 30.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport also is expected to be busier this Thanksgiving stretch compared to last year as passenger travel shows a slight uptick for the year, said spokeswoman Erica Donerson. But the airport doesn’t have individual day traffic forecasts for the week.

But those heading to the airport should be aware of ongoing construction.

Mechelle Lawrence, 32, walks with her daughter, Amaya Dawson, 9, both of New Hudson, after they get their luggage at the North Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus on Monday.

Rogell Drive, the roadway that leads drivers from Interstate 94 through the northern section of the airport, will not have all of its lanes open to traffic until Nov. 30. Lucas Drive, which provides access to rental car lots, is now open to traffic but has intermittent traffic shifts while a fence is installed. No shifts will be done the day before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after the holiday.

“It’s important to remember to arrive early — 90 minutes before a domestic flight and two hours before an international flight — and we’re here to help,” Donerson said. “As always, the DTW staff and airport ambassadors, who are volunteers, will be working hard to assist our customers during this busy time.”

Beth Pisani, 38, and her husband Mike, 39, were waiting in the baggage claim area of the airport on Monday with their children, Olivia, 7, Madison, 4, and Colton, 2. They arrived from Dallas but originally are from Rochester Hills and were in town to visit family for Thanksgiving.

“We usually come in for either Thanksgiving or Christmas, but one of our daughters had a full week off so we thought we would take advantage of that and come in early,” said Beth Pisani. “We’ll be visiting friends and family and having Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s house.”

Mechelle Lawrence, 32, and her daughter, Amaya Dawson, 9, also were waiting in baggage claim after arriving from Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We were attending my grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, but we’re on our way back home to New Hudson now,” Lawrence said.

She said she wanted to arrive in town early enough to prepare for Thanksgiving, where her home will be the gathering spot for family.

Travel is going to get hectic the Sunday following Thanksgiving, travel experts say.

“The busiest day will always be the Sunday after Thanksgiving because everyone needs to be back to work, home or school that Monday,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. “And the Thanksgiving holiday travel will be even more crowded than Christmas travel because Christmas falls on a Monday, and many travelers will elongate their holiday, possibly going into the new year, while Thanksgiving is more compact.”

With more passengers expected during this time, Magliari offers some advice.

“It’s going to be busy, and you should expect to see people who are newbies who haven’t ridden trains before,” he said. “Be patient, and offer help to those newbies.”

Amtrak prepared for the crush by adding extra trains in Michigan. Amtrak also will operate every available passenger rail car.

MDOT spokeswoman Diane Cross also offers travel advice.

“Weather is always what affects traveling volumes during the holidays,” she said. “We ask all drivers to plan ahead, to drive to road conditions, and to avoid distracted driving by only focusing on driving while behind the wheel.”

Make sure you have a road service card handy because AAA predicts about 330,000 motorists will have car trouble, with primary reasons being lockouts, flat tires and battery-related issues.

To ensure a safe holiday, AAA, Budweiser and law enforcement are teaming up for “Tow To Go,” a statewide program in effect since 1998 to prevent drunken and drugged driving. The program provides free, confidential rides during holidays. The AAA tow truck transports the vehicle and driver home or somewhere safe within 10 miles. If one is needed, call toll free (855) 286-9246.

For bus travelers, Greyhound’s peak day will be the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Chris Amerson, right, brings over a bag with his daughter, Adalynn Amerson, 7, left and mother, Mary Amerson, all of Arlington, Texas, while they wait for the rest of their luggage at the North Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Mich. on Nov 20, 2017. They are headed to Battle Creek for a family wedding and Thanksgiving.

“Detroit aligns with the rest of our network, where it will likely be the busiest on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” spokeswoman Cesaley Sparks said. “Nationwide, we expect to carry almost 700,000 customers during the holiday travel period.”

She said they have more than 1,200 buses in the Greyhound fleet that will be on the road during the holiday season.

Again, be prepared for crowds.

“Greyhound is expecting a high volume of customers to travel this season, so we encourage everyone to book their trips as early as possible and arrive at the station at least one hour before their scheduled departure time,” Sparks said. “We allow one checked bag and one carry-on per customer for free, but customers who purchase our refundable Flexible fare get two checked bags for free.”

She added: “Most importantly, once on board, customers can sit back, relax and simply leave the driving to us.”


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Thanksgiving week forecast

Tuesday: High 49, low 28

Wednesday: High 36, low 27

Thursday: High 38, low 30

Friday: High 44, low 40

Saturday: High 46, low 30

Source: National Weather Service