More Americans stay close to home
By Don Babwin
CHICAGO — Scott Fuchs will spend Thanksgiving with his family in Florida like he’s done for 20 years or so. But like thousands of other Americans, his brother is staying home — travel isn’t possible after he was laid off from his job in Maryland.
"Lack of funds," said Fuchs, a 49-year-old computer programmer from Plano, Texas.
A troubled economy is casting a shadow over the country on this Thanksgiving weekend, and thousands are opting to stay home instead of embark on costly voyages to see loved ones. Airport terminals were eerily empty Wednesday, devoid of the typical chaos on the day before a holiday. It was the same on the roads, where traffic breezed along even though plummeting gas prices made it much cheaper to drive.
Nationally, the Automobile Association of America says 41 million Americans were expected to travel more than 50 miles for the holiday, down about 1.5 percent or 600,000 people from last Thanksgiving. Of those, about 4.5 million are expected to fly, down about 7 percent from last year, while around 33.2 million will drive, a decrease of about 1 percent.
It is the first decrease in holiday travel nationally since 2002, and the largest since the Thanksgiving that followed the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"This is a reflection of the economy, and while gas prices have come down so significantly, people are paying more for everything else," said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA Chicago.
While most trips were going smoothly, security was a concern in New York City after federal authorities warned law enforcement of a possible terror plot by al-Qaida against the city’s subway and train systems during the holiday season, according to an internal memo obtained by the Associated Press. However, no changes were made to the nation’s threat level.
There were no substantial delays at airports, and travelers were surprised to find themselves moving more quickly than on a typical weekend. "It’s so quiet," Jen Lawless said in a hushed voice as she arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with her husband for a trip to North Carolina.
It was the same in Atlanta, where security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, moved briskly at under 10 minutes.
At Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, travelers found parking spots in the front row of the lot and no wait for check-in and security.
"This is crazy. There’s no one here," said Ryan Sullivan, who was flying to New York with his wife and two kids. "It’s quieter than on most weekdays."
In Boston, Alicia Kelly, on her way with her family to Miami, said she’d never seen so few people at Logan International Airport on the day before Thanksgiving.
One reason for the quiet scenes could be found in the Thanksgiving plans of people like Steve and Debbie Boultinghouse. Rather than host Thanksgiving for their daughter, her husband and three children, as they normally do, the Dallas couple decided this year to save her daughter’s family money and visit their home in Tampa.
"There’s five of them and two of us," Debbie Boultinghouse said.