Americans Resume Travel Habits

Edie Falco, right, reacts as Bill Sage embraces her son, Anderson, 4, before Falco threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the New York Mets faced the Washington Nationals in a baseball game at Citi Field in New York, Wednesday, May 27, 2009. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Terrorism fears aren't expected to keep Americans off the road Memorial Day weekend, but many travelers are expected to avoid the skies, despite discounts from major airlines.

An estimated 35.2 million people will be traveling during the three-day weekend, a slight increase over last year, according to the American Automobile Association.

The travel rebound is being fueled by lower lodging costs and a turnaround in gas prices. According to the AAA, a year ago, the average cost of a gallon of gas was $1.69. Now it's 30 cents lower at $1.49.

But traffic at the airports will be down by as much as 4 percent. The association expects the number of air travelers to drop to 4.1 million from 4.4 million in 2001. In large part, that's because of what is becoming known as "the hassle factor": random passenger checks, luggage searches, and delays.

The Federal Aviation Administration hopes to cut airport-screening waits to 10 minutes. But that's not expected until November, when all 57,000 new federalized airport screeners are on the job at the nation's 429 commercial airports.

AAA Vice President Sandra Hughes says the rebound in travel is a sign that "Americans are moving past 9/11 and are looking to resume their normal travel habits."

Most, about 29.3 million, will go by motor vehicle, up from 28.7 million last year, the AAA said. With increased traffic on America's roads, cops will be extra vigilant, pushing people to buckle up by ticketing those who refuse to put on their seatbelts.

CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports that at some 50,000 checkpoints, cops will be driving home the message that "seatbelts save lives."

Traditionally, the Memorial Day holiday is one of the nation's busiest. But this year, it comes on the heels of warnings about possible terrorist attacks.

Authorities in New York tightened security around the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge after the FBI disclosed uncorroborated information that the sites might be targeted, and the 119th birthday celebration for the bridge was canceled.

The Transportation Department on Friday said it warned all subways and railroad systems to remain on a heightened state of alert for possible terrorist attacks. A source speaking on condition of anonymity said such attacks most likely would involve explosives.

"If it's my day to go, and knock on wood I hope it isn't, then that was meant to be," said Jennifer Kirby, who was changing trains at Grand Central Terminal in New York on her way from New Jersey to Connecticut.

Ron and Patti Finley of Excelsior Springs, Mo., played it safe and traveled by car, setting up their tent at Smithville Lake outside Kansas City on Wednesday night.

"Flying is definitely not an option for us," said Patti Finley. "If we go anywhere, we definitely are driving."

Others seemed willing to live with the risks.

"I'm too old to drive," said Pat Templeton, 65, during an hour-long wait at a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport, but added "I would rather get there by car than by plane because it's safer."

Rob Thomas, 33, flew from Phoenix to Omaha, Neb., and said he doubted terrorists would try to hijack more planes. "I don't think they have the guts to do it twice," he said.

Some motorists were trying to make the most of their time on the road.

Sarah Olson, her husband and their 4-year-old twin boys drove from Minneapolis to Chicago to visit relatives.

"I think we are more inclined to be together in general," Sarah Olson said. "Since the attacks, people have been trying to stay in touch with their families before the next bad thing
  • Jaime Holguin

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