SFO expects heavy traffic during Thanksgiving holiday weekend

Traveling home for Thanksgiving comes at a premium price this year, but forecasts of packed flights and long airport lines indicate people are willing to fork over the extra dough.

Analysts estimate airfares rose 10 percent to 15 percent nationwide from last year’s figures. Nonetheless, Air Transport Association of America forecasts a 3 percent increase in holiday passengers from last year. Airplanes are expected to be more than 80 percent full for the holiday weekend, which is considered a high-load factor.

The rising cost of fuel is the main reason for more than 10 industrywide fare hikes this year, Minnesota-based airfare analyst Terry Trippler said.

While travel dropped off sharply after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, travelers have been increasingly willing to fly again in recent years. Airlines that dropped fares to entice worried travelers back into airplanes began raising them again last Thanksgiving, when travelers largely went back to their pre-9/11 booking patterns, Trippler said.

“I think Americans finally said they weren’t going to stay home anymore,” Trippler said.

San Francisco International Airport expects to see some growth in the number of holiday travelers, with about 1 million passengers expected between Friday and the Monday after Thanksgiving. SFO spokesman Mike McCarron estimates that figure is roughly half of a percent more than last year’s totals.

“This year is going to be a very busy holiday season for us,” McCarron said Wednesday at a news conference.

Thanksgiving, particularly “Black Wednesday” and the Sunday post-holiday, is typically busier at SFO than the December holiday season because the traveling is compressed into a long weekend, McCarron said. But Thanksgiving is morphing into a weeklong affair as more students have longer breaks, he said.

McCarron said travelers can cut out many travel headaches by checking the status of their flights with the air carriers before leaving home, arriving at the airport at least two hours before take-off for domestic flights, checking in at the new long-term parking garage and not carrying gift-wrapped presents.

McCarron encourages fliers to use BART, which he says is the easiest way to travel to and from the airport.

Airport duty manager Dennis Neves said it would also help if, as per regulations handed down this summer by the Transportation Security Administration, travelers put carry-on toiletries in 3-ounce bottles sealed in a quart-size, zip-top sandwich bag.

tramroop@examiner.com

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