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Fewer fliers this Thanksgiving, but flights will still be packed

The airlines, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Bush administration are taking steps for smoother traveling.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 25, 2008

SOURCE: Federal Aviation Administration/AP

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Heading home for the holidays? If you're flying, prepare for packed planes and plenty of hassles – and you might not get there at all if you miss or are bumped from a flight.

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That's even though an estimated 2 million fewer people will take to the skies to reach their turkey dinner this Thanksgiving.

You'd think that would free up some space, but it won't. That's because there will also be 10 percent fewer flights than last year.

Still, the hard-to-forget travel horrors of holidays past have prompted the airlines, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Bush administration to do their best to ensure that this holiday doesn't turn into – in President Bush's words – "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

The TSA has opened special family travel lanes and held training sessions to help workers deal with stressed-out travelers, the airlines have put on extra staff, and the Bush administration has opened up military airspace to ease potential storm-related congestion.

So pack light and carry a good sense of humor: Everyone, at least, is trying.

"What's different and positive compared with the last couple of years is that the airline workforce is not as dispirited," says Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition in Radnor, Pa. "So from a customer-service standpoint, it should be an overall better experience."

A key factor to ensuring that's the case is the weather. If a storm rolls into Chicago, New York, or Atlanta – key hubs that determine how well the entire US air-traffic control system works – there could be delays and cancellations aplenty.

Meteorologists at the Weather Channel are predicting that by Tuesday, a storm system will pick up steam in the Midwest: "A strengthening storm system over the Great Lakes will bring rain to the Ohio Valley and snow to the Great Lakes .... Snow will continue near the Great Lakes [Tuesday] into Wednesday before beginning to taper off," according to their website.

Wednesday, of course, is traditionally one of the heaviest travel days of the year. If the snow isn't too heavy, the airlines and air-traffic control system will probably be able to keep the system running fairly smoothly. That's thanks in part to the opened-up military airspace that will allow controllers to route planes around the storm.

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