Holiday Travel Gets Off To Rocky Start

Travelers are shown at Portland International Airport at the start of the Thanksgiving holiday week Monday, Nov. 19, 2007, in Portland, Ore.
Whether the problem was machines, or Mother Nature, few travelers are giving thanks so far this week, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor.

Glor spoke with John Shaffrey of the Air Traffic Control Systems Command Center, who told him that low cloud ceilings around the country would mean pilots would have to depend on their instruments - and not their eyes - for landings.

For example, Glor reports, at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, they can normally handle 100 flights an hour. Today they were able to handle 74 - down more than 25 percent. And unfortunately for Thanksgiving travelers, these low ceilings are expected to stay in place through at least Friday.

At Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, two control towers lost radio communications. Planes were prevented from leaving and landing. And lines on the tarmac meant long lines at check in.

"I'm starting out a few days earlier, but apparently everyone has the same thought in mind," said a traveler.

Thick coastal fog delayed 19 arriving flights at Los Angeles International Airport, causing minor delays for passengers at the start of the busy Thanksgiving travel week.

The incoming planes were delayed an average of 24 minutes Monday, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Some departing flights were also delayed by about 15 minutes because of poor visibility.

"The controllers can't see a lot of the air field, so they have to slow down traffic as a precaution," Gregor said.

The fog lifted by midmorning Tuesday and there were no additional delays at LAX or other local airports, Gregor said.

The FAA spokesman initially reported that fog had shut down one of two runways for arriving planes, but he later said that was an error and the closure was due to maintenance.

Earlier Monday, fog was blamed for delays at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, about 15 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. It prevented 12 planes from landing Sunday night for a Monday morning turnaround, leaving scores of passengers stranded, airport
spokesman Victor Gill said.

"It was quite severe," Gill said. "The runway is 400 feet from my office window, and I couldn't see it."

"We had a lovely stay in the waiting room for four hours, five hours, and they kept delaying our plane, delaying our plane," said traveler Marty Courson.

Several flights also were diverted from Santa Monica Airport on Monday and some were delayed at San Diego International Airport, said Gregor, noting that operations returned to normal later in the day.

There were also fog problems in Atlanta and Chicago.

All these delays came on the first day of a travel period that was supposed to get better. A special Thanksgiving week plan announced by the president last week opened up military air space for commercial flights.

By early afternoon Tuesday, there will be some 6,000 flights in the air over the United States.

Most Americans were traveling by car, and paying record prices for gasoline - especially considering it's November, not the summer.

For those traveling for the holiday out of the upper Plains states, Tuesday "would be the day to get out of Dodge, rather than waiting until the Wednesday rush," advises CBS News meteorologist George Cullen. While Monday it was in the 70s and even close to 80 in spots, a blast of arctic air will be invading these areas on very gusty winds and by Wednesday morning temperatures will have plunged to near 10 with snow blowing around.

The forecast was much better for the mid-section of the country and the West Coast, but motorists may find a different kind of turbulence: CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts reports the price of gasoline hit $3.48 a gallon in San Francisco Monday, the highest in the nation. The national average is $3.10, 86 cents a gallon more than this period last year.

Nationwide, gas prices have jumped 13 cents in the past two weeks, as a record 31 million travelers will take to the road this Thanksgiving.

The American Automobile Association estimates that 38.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, up 1.5 percent from last year. About 80 percent of those were planning a trip by motor vehicle. About an eighth (12.1 percent) will travel by air, the travel club predicted in a press release last week.

Officials at Massport, the agency which runs Boston's Logan Airport, said they were ready for this week's rush.

"The busiest days will be the two days before Thanksgiving. We'll have over 55,000 people a day departing Logan airport," said Massport's Edward Freni. "Wednesday will be as busy as Tuesday, we think. And then Sunday will be the busiest day of the week."

"You think stress, you think delayed flights, you think, be ready for anything," Logan Airport traveler Liza Curtis told CBS station WBZ-TV.