Fewer travelers at local airports, but more highway drivers

AAA: 8 percent increase in road travelers, showing hope for economic rebound

Bay Area airports were handling fewer holiday travelers than usual heading into Thanksgiving, while more people were expected to be driving on local highways compared to last year.

There was about a 10 percent decrease in travelers at Oakland International Airport compared to 2008, airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said.

The maximum wait at the security checkpoint has been five minutes and the economy parking lot was still half-empty as of 10 a.m., Barnes said.

The 10 percent decrease in passengers "is a good number for us," she said. "It shows that passenger traffic is rebounding. We had much sharper drops in passenger traffic earlier in the year, so we're very thankful that we've had a bounce back."

David Vossbrink, spokesman for Mineta San Jose International Airport, said that airport is also a little less busy than last year, mostly

due to the recession.

He said, however, that the airport still recommends that passengers arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before their flights.

Holiday travel can be hectic because many of the people flying don't travel as frequently as some of the business travelers that use the airport during the rest of the year, Vossbrink said.

As for Bay Area highways, California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Kroncke said traffic was lighter Wedneday than earlier in the week.

AAA Northern California predicts that more than 3.5 million Californians will travel 50 or more miles during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend starting Thursday.

That number would be an 8 percent increase over the same period in 2008.

AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said that would be the first increase for the state in the past two years, during which high gas prices and hard economic times have prompted people to postpone or cancel holiday trips.

"It just shows there's a glimmer of hope, that things may change," Harris said. "People are starting to go back to their old travel patterns, or finding more creative ways to do it."

CHP Sgt. Trent Cross said the period between Wednesday and Sunday is one of the agency's maximum enforcement periods. CHP officers will be out in

force and will focus on motorists speeding, driving under the influence, or driving without a seatbelt.

Cross said there are usually many DUI arrests during the Thanksgiving holiday.

"During the holidays people like to enjoy alcoholic beverages, which is fine as long as it's done responsibly," he said. "But unfortunately, during the holidays we do tend to see a higher increase of people driving under the influence."

AAA is offering a Tipsy Tow Program for drivers in Northern California.

Between 6 p.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday, both members and non-members of AAA can call (800) 222-4357 and ask for a free tow of up to five miles.

The service is restricted to a one-way ride for the driver and the vehicle to the driver's home.

--Dan Menamin, Bay City News

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