The long MEA weekend is expected to attract a throng of travelers to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in the next few days.
Many Minnesota schools will be closed Thursday and Friday so teachers can attend the annual Minnesota Educator Academy conference. Families often take advantage of the annual break for training and travel with their kids over the long weekend.
“It’s the Minnesota getaway,” said Cindy Weisz of Medina, as she gathered her belongings Wednesday en route to Disney World in Orlando with her husband Allen and 11-year-old son Matthew. “We left for the airport a little early knowing it would be busy.”
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects to screen 45,000 passengers on Wednesday and 45,000 to 46,000 on Thursday — compared with 36,000 on an average travel day.
“Wednesday and Thursday for MEA have historically been the busiest days of the year,” said Cliff Van Leuven, TSA Federal Security Director for Minnesota.
But this year has already broken many records for TSA screenings at MSP, including an all-time high of 60,883 the Monday after the Super Bowl, which was held in Minneapolis earlier this year.
TSA is bringing in an additional 30 officers and two more canine teams to handle the influx of travelers at the airport for MEA.
“We should be in good shape,” Van Leuven said.
For Niki Thurman, MEA weekend seemed like a good time to fly to Fort Lauderdale to visit family with her daughters Eminah, 12, and Sariah, 7. The Thurmans, of Albertville, were flying standby with hopes of getting a seat on a flight to the warmer clime.
“I want to go swimming,” Eminah said.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) and the nonprofit Airport Foundation MSP have planned a number of activities to entertain travelers, particularly families with children. The Minnesota Zoo will bring wildlife to Terminal One from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday near the Stone Arch restaurant, where Concourses F and G meet the main mall.
Travelers can collect souvenir buttons at help desks, and family travel guides will be on hand to help direct travelers to their gates, play areas for kids and dining options. Airport staff will use flags to mark the end of lines as passenger queue up at airline ticket counters and at security checkpoints.
MAC officials advise passengers who want to park at the airport to consider the Quick Ride Ramp, which costs $15 a day and offers free shuttle service to Terminal One.
Not everyone will be taking to the skies for the weekend.
Those planning a road trip can expect to pay $2.82 on average for a gallon of regular unleaded gas as of Tuesday, according to AAA Minnesota. That’s 7 cents cheaper than the national average. But the state’s average gas price is 48 cents per gallon more expensive than last year.
Spokeswoman Meredith Terpstra said AAA Minnesota doesn’t expect to see a big increase in auto travel this year during MEA, although some families take advantage of the long weekend to visit colleges. Otherwise, she said the Wisconsin Dells and Chicago are longstanding hot spots for families looking for a weekend getaway.