Flying Home With The Crowd

Nervous about terrorism, Brit Jensen was taking a good look at fellow passengers Sunday as she flew back to Indiana after spending Thanksgiving with her parents in North Dakota.

"This is terrible to say but you kind of check out who's flying with you. I never did that before," said Jensen, whose trip home put her on a plane for the first time since Sept. 11.

As two armed National Guards members kept watch near a door, Jensen said she didn't think she would ever get used to seeing guardsmen at Bismarck Airport.

"This is such a safe place, so it's strange to me. But things change, I guess," said Jensen, a student at Taylor University near Indianapolis.

Across the nation, thousands of travelers braved congestion and increased security as they returned to airports, highways and railways during the first major travel period following the attacks.

While final figures on the number of holiday travelers are not expected until later in the week, Sunday does appear to have been one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Several airlines said their flights were almost at capacity.

"All the terminals are full," said David Rogers, as he waited at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport for his flight home to Mobile, Ala.

Highways were also busy. In Atlanta, where three major interstates cross, traffic moved well but volume was heavy. New Jersey highways were also clogged.

"There's only so much asphalt out there," said Lynn Fleeger, director of public affairs for the New Jersey Turnpike.

More travelers were expected to drive to their holiday destination, while a decline in air travel was predicted because of the weak economy and fear of flying since the airborne attacks. Overall, the number of Americans expected to travel over the weekend was expected to be down 6 percent since last year.

Officials at Los Angeles International Airport had predicted that it would have 25 percent fewer arrivals and departures compared to the same time last year.

Aviation consultant Michael Boyd of The Boyd Group in Colorado had predicted a 25 percent drop in air travel for the holiday weekend.

"This will be a bellwether of what consumers think," he said, adding numbers should be known by Wednesday. "If it's down less than 20 percent, what we have is a rebounding economy for air travel."

Another industry analyst, Terry Trippler of Trippler & Associates Inc. in Minneapolis, predicted that the airlines' holiday business would turn out to be better than expected, and said the period was crucial for the airlines' futures.

"It was critical to the airlines that they pull off this Thanksgiving weekend so people would say 'Thanksgiving was all right, so we will fly at Christmastime,'" he said.

Passengers at Chicago's airports experienced long lines at security checkpoints but flights were generally running on time.

Even though the airports were expected to experience their busiest day since Sept. 11, the numbers are still not back tnormal, said Department of Aviation spokeswoman Monique Bond.

"A lot of people under the circumstances are choosing to travel one holiday over another," she said of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

By Lisa A. Flam © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed