Weekend Air Scare Fizzles

Travelers who got to airports early Friday anticipating Thanksgiving-like crushes at ticket counters were pleasantly surprised when they found highways and airports less crowded than predicted.

The Air Transport Association predicted that a strong economy would send more Americans on vacation and put more in the air on Friday than any other day as the summer travel season got started ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Passengers found the usual buzz of people darting around airports, but nothing like the long lines they had been told to expect. Some airline officials said the trade group that had predicted the record number of passengers may have been off base.

"We didn't have any traffic going to the airport," said Jane Altizer, who left her Roswell, Ga., home early to leave plenty of time to get through Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport on her way to Las Vegas. "We haven't any trouble at all."

New York's LaGuardia Airport was quiet as a library. In Chicago, travelers moved easily along the concourse of the uncongested United Airlines terminal at O'Hare International Airport.

"I read the papers today and I was worried, but it certainly doesn't look like the biggest day in aviation history," said Adam Rogulski, of Wilmette, Ill. "No traffic, no problems, no waiting in line. It's mellow."

The ATA said it was confident its prediction of 2 million passengers flying Friday would bear out. The airline industry group expects 1.8 million people to return by plane from their trips on Tuesday.

The group said it based its prediction on advance reservations and previous year's traffic patterns. The total number of passengers Friday won't be known until next month.

The Washington-based association also predicted that planes over the holiday weekend would be 83 percent filled. Recently load factors have been averaging 70 percent.

None of the major airlines, except Delta Air Lines, expected to break any records. Delta was booked for 397,000 passengers, which would surpass by almost 30,000 people the previous record set the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year, said spokesman Todd Clay.

"What we're seeing is an extremely busy day but not by any stretch of the imagination a record," said Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines in Fort Worth, Texas.

But Delta Airlines flight attendant Jamie Regan said that air travel in general has been much heavier this year -- not just over the Memorial Day weekend. Cheaper tickets and a healthy economy have more people flying instead of driving.

"All of our flights are packed, every day," said Ms. Regan as she waited in a crowded food court at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.

Despite the record predictions for air travelers, most Americans still planned to travel by car over the weekend, according to AAA Auto Club. Of the 32.1 million Americans who planned to travel over the holiay weekend, 26.7 million planned to go by car, truck or motor home.

Written by Mike Schneider
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