Holiday travelers, you’re in the thick of it now.
More than a third of Americans — nearly 113 million travelers — are expected to take to the nation’s roads, railways and skies this holiday season, according to AAA. That’s an increase of 4.4 percent over last year’s holiday period.
“I’m not worried about the crowds,” declared Rosemary Nevils-Williams, a Minneapolis resident who was flying Friday out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Atlanta. “Everybody is just trying to get with their families to celebrate.”
Spurred by dipping gas prices and an increase in disposable income, AAA said the vast majority of travelers — about 102 million — will drive to their holiday destinations.
In Minnesota, the average price for a gallon of gas on Friday was $2.20, according to Gasbuddy.com. The lowest price spotted in the Twin Cities was $1.95 a gallon.
The ticketing area of Terminal 1, the airport’s main terminal, was crowded but calm Friday morning. Lines at the two major security checkpoints stretched to the terminal’s midsection at times but appeared to be moving quickly.
Close to 46 million passengers were expected to fly on U.S. airlines over the 18-day holiday period that began Thursday, according to Airlines for America, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group.
That’s 5.2 percent higher than last year’s air traffic volume, an increase prompted by historically low airfares and a “booming demand” for air travel, the group noted.
The biggest surge in air travel was expected Thursday, Friday and the day after Christmas on Wednesday, with up to 2.9 million passengers flying each day. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were expected to be among the lightest travel days for the season.
“We’ll see significant growth [in screenings] this year, but it won’t be insurmountable,” said Cliff Van Leuven, Federal Security Director for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in Minneapolis.
TSA expects to screen 6 percent more travelers nationwide compared with the same period last year. Locally, TSA said it expects the increase to be around 5 percent.
TSA noted it will likely screen more than 42,000 travelers on Friday and Saturday, and about 45,000 on Wednesday. An average of 38,000 people are screened daily at the airport.
“If the 26th pans out as expected, it could be the sixth busiest day at MSP,” Van Leuven said. The current record was set the Monday after the Super Bowl earlier this year, when some 60,883 people were screened at the airport.
Kevin Kennedy got up at 2 a.m. Friday to fly from his home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Minneapolis for a visit with his mother in Waseca. “I got up really early because they were saying it was really going to be crowded,” he said. But the expected throng never materialized.
TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said that people can fly with wrapped presents — “It’s a myth that you can’t.” But if TSA screeners detect something fishy, they can unwrap gifts to ensure they’re safe.
And no, Dankers added, TSA agents won’t rewrap them. “It’s better to use a gift bag,” she said.
Airport officials suggested that travelers arrive at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours for international flights. The Evert family arrived at the airport Friday for their trip to California wine country with plenty of time to spare.
“We’ve traveled enough to know not to push the time envelope,” said Janelle Evert, of Grand Forks, N.D.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) advises a counterintuitive approach of picking up arriving passengers on the ticketing level and dropping off departing passengers near the baggage claim area. MAC officials also suggest meeting arriving passengers inside the terminal to avoid curbside congestion. Parking in the hourly lot located on Level 3 of the Gold Ramp goes for $3 an hour.