Despite new restrictions on carry-on luggage, higher air fares and gasoline prices that won’t stay down, Thanksgiving travel by air and auto is expected to surpass last year’s numbers.
An estimated 38.3 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving by plane, car or train, according to AAA. That’s a 2.7 percent increase over the 37.3 million who traveled over the holiday in 2005.
But the surge in travel will be longer than just the usual Wednesday-through-Sunday mess. The Air Transport Association, which represents major U.S. carriers and measures holiday travel over a 12-day span that began last Friday expects some 25 million people to squeeze into planes.
None of that news, however, seems to be dampening travel plans.
"Even with the hassles and expense of traveling at this time of year, people still want to spend it with friends and family, and that outweighs the cost and the headaches," said Amy Ziff, editor at large for Travelocity.com.
Getting there isn’t going to be cheap or easy. Air fares for Thanksgiving travel have increased 15 percent over last year, according to Sabre Air Solutions, an industry consultant and global reservation system.
Gasoline prices, which reached a seven-month low in October, have been creeping up in recent days, although the average price for regular unleaded in California is still 11 cents lower than a year ago, according to AAA.
But AAA said prices might be increasing as a result of expected demand for gasoline during the Thanksgiving holiday. The price of a gallon of unleaded gas is up nationally almost 2 cents from a month ago.
"Prices have been going up about a penny a day in the Bay Area since right around the election," said Michael Geeser, a spokesman for AAA of Northern California. "It’s tough to say why, because it flies in the face of what we predicted. Everything pointed toward prices going down."
Even vacationers will find travel more expensive. AAA reports that rates at its three-diamond hotels are up 16 percent over last year, while car rental prices have soared 21 percent.
Looking for some good news? If you’re traveling by air and forget to bring a plastic bag to hold small liquid toiletries, Bay Area airports will provide them for free.
Bag-makers Hefty and Glad are distributing free 1-quart zip bags to airports around the country during the holidays. This is the first major holiday since the Transportation Security Administration imposed carry-on regulations that limit liquids and gels to 3 ounces or less per passenger.
"This is not complicated," TSA head Kip Hawley said this week in reminding fliers of the new rules. "If you dump it out on the table and it retains its form, it’s not a liquid, aerosol or gel."
Travelers at Mineta San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland airports can find the bags at either airline ticket counters or before reaching security checkpoints. A spokeswoman for San Jose Airport said airport operations had already purchased bags before they were offered by the companies.
Bay Area airports expect big crowds through the holidays.
There will be 3.3 million passengers passing through SFO this year — nearly
1 percent more travelers than last holiday season — and at least a million of them will be traveling next week for Thanksgiving.
Mineta San Jose officials say they anticipate a 2-percent increase in passenger volume over 2005 to about 440,000 fliers for the 12-day period that ends Nov. 28.
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Oakland expects a 3 percent increase in Thanksgiving travel to about 350,000 passengers over an eight-day travel span that began Tuesday, and San Francisco is anticipating 3.3 million fliers from today through Jan. 3.
The traffic surge began Friday and will continue through the Sunday after Thanksgiving — the one day when everyone travels home from their family destinations and, therefore, the busiest day of travel. On these extra busy travel days, 80,000 to 90,000 people pass through the airport, about 20,000 more passengers than on ordinary days, according to SFO Spokesman Mike McCarron.
But don’t expect it to get any easier through the end of the year.
"It’s definitely going to hold through the winter travel period," Ziff said. "We’re seeing that people are booking their travel in advance. They booked earlier for Thanksgiving than they did last year, and they’re already booking their winter holiday travel now."
To calm your nerves while you wait shoeless and holding your plastic baggie full of toiletries in the security line, SFO has brought in entertainment. The city’s Gay Men’s Chorus will regale the public with classics like "San Francisco" and assorted holiday songs at noon every Wednesday through Chritmas, followed by performances from the Leading Ladies of Tango and the Circus Center’s Circus Finelli.