By Michael Davis
The busiest travel period of the year is expected to hit Atlanta's airport next week, with more than 1.7 million people queuing up for flights into and out of the world's busiest passenger airport.
Officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport predict an average of 10,000 passengers a day throughout the seven-day Thanksgiving travel period Tuesday through Sunday, with the busiest day being the Sunday after Thanksgiving followed by the Wednesday before. The passenger prediction is a 5 percent increase over last year.
“With all the other things you pack for your trip, pack your patience,” airport General Manager Ben DeCosta said during a press conference. “My advice: Plan to arrive at the airport early,” he said.
Passengers should arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before their flight, he said.
But nationally, AAA, the nation's largest travel organization, is predicting less than a 1 percent increase in travel, partly due to gas prices and sagging consumer confidence.
In a statement earlier in the week, AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet said travel growth will be “a bit less robust this holiday, although airports and highways will be as busy as ever.”
While gas prices are higher than last year's, the cost of a gallon has sunk significantly from hurricane-induced highs of as much as $5 and $6 per gallon. AAA said that while gas nationally is down 48 cents from two months ago, it's still 32 cents higher than a year ago.
And that's not enough to keep people off the roads.
“You'd be hard pressed to tell grandma that you're not coming for Thanksgiving dinner because it will cost an extra $10 to fill up your gas tank,” Darbelnet said.
And while most travelers stay with family during holiday periods, hotels and motels are still looking for a little business from out-of-towners, even if they haven't booked ahead.
“We're hoping to get a lot of walk-ins,” said Mark Evans, the desk clerk at Comfort Inn in Stockbridge.
More than 37 million Americans are expected to hit the road during the holiday week, and 38 percent of those will be driving, AAA said.
That could spell traffic congestion in metro Atlanta, but most road construction projects will be put on hold during the week.
“Motorists may see some construction going on but it shouldn't impact traffic,” said Randi Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Work won't begin in earnest again until the night of Nov. 28.
On Georgia's roads, nine people were killed and 1,233 were injured in car accidents over the Thanksgiving travel period last year, the Governor's Office of Highway Safety said. The Georgia State Patrol is predicting 13 deaths this year and more than 2,700 crashes.