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Heavy travel expected for Thanksgiving

By Ed Brock

Sandy Sachs and her son Howard Sachs of Florida have been in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport during Thanksgiving before.

It wasn't too bad, they said, but it was bad enough to inspire them to come early this year to spend Thanksgiving with Howard Sachs' brother, a Delta pilot living in Alpharetta.

"It's crazy to get a flight in at the last minute. It's too hectic," Sachs said.

On Monday they were waiting in the Hartsfield-Jackson atrium where record numbers of travelers were expected to begin filing through today and throughout the weekend.

"Our projections are showing us we'll have 1.7 million (passengers coming through the airport during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,)" said Hartsfield-Jackson spokeswoman Lanii Thomas.

That's a 21 percent increase over the previous high of 1.4 million passengers, Thomas said. Today 276,000 passengers are expected to come through the airport that usually sees a little under 230,000 passengers a day. On Wednesday 284,000 or more people are expected to go through the airport and Saturday and Sunday will be unusually heavy.

"On these peak days we're asking people to get here a minimum of two hours ahead (of their flight's departure)," Thomas said.

Thomas added that airport officials see the high traffic predictions as a sign of a strengthening economy.

"The airlines are definitely carrying more people this year," Thomas said.

Passengers should check the airport's Web site, www.atlanta-airport.com, for a pop-up window full of tips for expediting their travel experience during the weekend. Along with the usual advice of making sure not to put forbidden items like sharp objects in carry-on bags, the tips also include not wrapping Christmas presents.

And for people who are dropping off loved ones and want to spend a little time with their good-byes, Thomas recommended paying for parking instead of trying to bid farewell in the passenger drop-off zones.

"The police are really going to be enforcing keeping that curbside moving," Thomas said.

Also, returning passengers who are trying to direct their rides to their locations should notice the numbers above each door of the terminal and use them for directions.

Law enforcement agencies are also expecting a busy weekend on the highways and roads.

"Thanksgiving is usually a heavy-travel holiday," Clayton County Police Capt. Tom Israel said.

Clayton County police will be intensifying their patrols and perform safety checkpoints if weather permits. And, as always, Israel warns drivers against driving while intoxicated, speeding and driving without a seatbelt.

The Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety are predicting 3,470 accidents to occur between 6 p.m. Wednesday and midnight Sunday. In those accidents, there are expected to be 934 injuries and 20 deaths.

In the same period last year there were 3,437 accidents that led to 20 deaths and 918 injuries.

None of last year's fatal accidents were alcohol related, something State Patrol Commander Col. George Ellis said was very unusual. However, 12 of the fatal accidents involved drivers and passengers who were not wearing seatbelts, and troopers did arrest 220 people for DUI.

"Now through the end of the year is the period when we see a noticeable increase in the number of impaired drivers on our roads," Ellis said. "Troopers will be keeping a sharp eye out for impaired drivers."

Along with participating in special programs with local police and sheriff agencies, the State Patrol is urging drivers to call "Star G-S-P (*477)" to report drunk drivers.