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Fewer Of Us Traveling This Labor Day

Harvey Lutske won't be traveling this Labor Day weekend — but don't blame terrorism fears or the sour economy.

On the contrary, the problem is too many other people on the go.

"It's better to travel by yourself than with 100 million other Americans. It's just too crowded," said the 55-year-old Los Angeles man, who is putting off a driving tour until October.

In fact, highways and airports will likely be less crowded than usual for a holiday. Roughly 32.7 million Americans plan to travel 50 miles or farther from home this Labor Day weekend — down from 33 million last year, according to the American Automobile Association.

""We think it's people's concern about their personal finances and the economy as a whole. Plus we're seeing an early start to the school year in parts of the country," said Mantill Williams, AAA's director of public affairs.

Of those taking trips, 27.5 million are expected to drive, slightly down from 27.6 million in 2001. About 3.8 million plan to fly — compared to 4.1 million a year ago, the AAA said.

With Sept. 11 days away, some may be feeling renewed fear at the prospect of flying, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. He expects airport security to tighten as the anniversary grows closer.

"We expect that things this Labor Day will run smoothly," he said. "I think we'll get through this weekend, but then we will have that buildup the following week."

At Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, a long line of passengers snaked up to the main security checkpoint Friday. Airport spokeswoman Lanii Thomas said long waits have become commonplace in the lead-up to Labor Day.

"We still have a lot of people that come through that are unaware of certain changes (after Sept. 11)," Thomas said. "I had a lady come up to me and ask me why she couldn't get past the security checkpoint to meet her daughter, who was on an arriving flight."

In California, Los Angeles International Airport expects nearly 700,000 passengers over the weekend, about the same volume as Memorial Day weekend but down about 15 percent from the same period last year.

One reason is that financially ailing airlines have cut the number of flights by about 20 percent.

Still, Merle Blankenship, 65, of Gardena planned to fly to Oakland for a surprise birthday party for his brother.

"You can't be paranoid about these things," he said of flying. "If something's going to happen, it's going to happen."

Elsewhere, Midwest travelers face a possible strike by flight attendants at Midwest Express, who announced Friday that they planned a walkout or sporadic strikes after contract negotiations broke off.

In fire-ravaged Oregon, campers will have to do without open campfires at more than 20 state parks even though firefighters have most of the major wildfires in the state nearly contained.

In New Mexico, Fenton Lake State Park reopened just in time for Labor Day vacationers after a wildfire scorched more than 4,000 acres of forest.

Meanwhile, police will be out in force on highways, looking for drunken drivers, speeders and motorists who are not using seatbelts.

Some weren't scared off by any of the holiday travel worries or hassles. As she filled her gas tank near downtown Los Angeles, Karen Davis, 38, said she was taking her three boys to Las Vegas for the weekend.

"We just want to drive so the kids can see the scenery," she said. "I'm not afraid of flying, not at all."

In fact, she planned to fly the family back because of cheap holiday fares offered by airlines.

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