NEW YORK (AP) – Some trains were sold out and light snow slowed traffic in Denver, but short airport lines surprised people who got a head start on what was predicted to be a day of record travel on the eve of Thanksgiving.

The sun wasn’t even up yet when people started heading to train stations and airports with luggage, children and homemade food for family reunions or fun getaways.

Surveys indicated a record 38.7 million U.S. residents were likely to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday between Wednesday and Sunday, up about 1.5 percent over last year, according to the AAA auto club.

About 31.2 million of them were expected to drive despite gas prices that were nearly 85 cents more per gallon than they were a year earlier. The national average for regular gasoline on Nov. 16 was $3.09 a gallon, up from $2.23 on Nov. 17, 2006.

“The question becomes ‘Is $10 or $15 more for gas enough to change travel plans?’ and obviously most Americans said ‘no,”‘ said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson in Washington.

Despite the gas prices, AAA has said, prices for hotels, airfares and car rentals are mostly declining, with car rentals averaging 12 percent lower than last year, airline tickets down about 7 percent and some hotel holiday rates down 3 percent.

Light check-in volume surprised travelers departing from the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.

“We were expecting a much longer delay. LAX is infamous for that,” said Charles Gwyer, 70, of Philadelphia. He and his wife were heading to Hawaii for a family gathering after a stopover in Los Angeles.

“It’s empty, that’s weird,” Mike Patulo, 23, said at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where he arrived by 8 a.m. for a 10 a.m. flight to Cleveland.

“I haven’t found the madhouse I thought I would find,” Lou Lecalsey, 68, said at Philadelphia International Airport as he waited for a flight home to Green Bay, Wis., after seeing his new granddaughter in Lancaster, Pa.

Airports took steps to move people quickly. Arizona’s Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport had about 400 volunteers on hand to answer passenger questions and help direct traffic, spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher said.

Some travelers also got entertainment. Four Rockettes dancers circulated around Chicago’s O’Hare International, demonstrating their high kicks, handing out candy canes, and posing for photos with travelers such as 9-year-old Zac Wasendorf and 2-year-old brother Erik, who were heading to Orlando, Fla.

“This is gonna be the best holiday card ever,” the boys’ mother, Amber Wasendorf of Chicago, said of the photo.

Another reason for the smoother-than-expected sailing on Wednesday seemed to be that more people are turning Thanksgiving into an extended vacation rather than a long weekend, said Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride.

“It looks like people started the holiday on the 16th, the Friday before,” Pride said. But while O’Hare expected about 206,000 travelers Wednesday – some 3,000 less than an average day – Monday is likely to be hectic with 237,000 people, she said.

Amtrak said several trains were sold out Wednesday. Amtrak expected more than 115,000 riders for the day, about a 70 percent increase over a usual Wednesday, spokesman Cliff Cole said.

Travelers trickled into New York’s Pennsylvania Station before dawn, including Carrie Seligson, a 38-year-old construction worker, who got to the station an hour before her departure on one of the earliest trains to Washington, where she was going to spend the holiday with her family and attend her 20th high school reunion.

“There are too many people later in the day, and the train gets too crowded,” Seligson said.

Weather was not a big factor Wednesday, said Michael Musher, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Although light snow bogged down traffic in parts of Denver, and made some Colorado mountain roads slushy, snowy or icy, only two flights were listed as delayed at Denver International Airport, the nation’s fourth busiest. Airport officials spent $31 million on snow-removal equipment this year, following the storm last December that shut the airport down for two days.

Weather made a difference for other reasons for Pam Girard of Huntley, Ill., who was flying from Chicago to Southern California with her husband and two daughters, ages 3 years and 4 months.

“It’s not raining, it’s nice, it’s got mountains, it’s got the beach. C’mon it’s California,” Huntley said.



Associated Press writers Solvej Schou in Los Angeles; George Merritt in Denver; Brock Vergakis in Salt Lake City; Matt Joyce in Grapevine, Texas; Suzette LaBoy in Miami; Janet Frankston Lorin in Newark, N.J.; JoAnn Loviglio in Philadelphia; Terry Wallace in Dallas; Sofia Mannos and Jackie Bsharah in Washington, and Rebecca Miller, Pat Milton, David B. Caruso in New York City contributed to this report.

AP-ES-11-21-07 1603EST


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