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More On The Road Than In The Air For Holiday Travel

People drive on the Ventura Freeway at the end of the evening rush hour in Glendale, Calif.
Robyn Beck
AFP/Getty Images
People drive on the Ventura Freeway at the end of the evening rush hour in Glendale, Calif.

There is rising concern as the busy holiday travel season approaches that new airport security procedures are going to slow things down. Some people are so annoyed by new scanners and pat-downs, they plan to avoid the airport.

Joshua Garcia usually flies his grandmother into Bethesda, Md., for Thanksgiving. But this year, he's loading up the family and driving seven hours to see her.

"I'm packing up to go with my folks back to Cleveland, Ohio," he says. "I'm kind of packing a little early this year [and] had to take off work early because nobody wants to fly unfortunately."

Garcia says he just wanted to warn his grandmother about the new highly personal pat-downs and the body scanners that see through clothing. He says she refuses to fly now, and so do his parents.

"My dad's worse than my mom. He doesn't like being checked like that. He's never had to [be]," Garcia says. They don't agree with the new procedures "so rather than argue and fight about it, we're just going to take a road trip and go a little earlier."

Garcia's family is among millions hitting the road for the holidays this year.

AAA's Thanksgiving travel forecast estimates 42 million Americans will visit loved ones; 40 million are expected to drive to their destinations.

"That's the largest share of automobile travel ever, for any holiday," says AAA's Troy Green.

Green says AAA is predicting that traveling by car will increase 12 percent from last year despite higher gas prices. He says a slightly better economy should also boost air travel, but not by nearly as much.

There's little evidence of it yet, but there's concern that new airport security procedures will increase the wait time at checkpoints and make people less interested in flying.

Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of U.S. Travel Association, says the new rules come at a bad time.

"The holiday travel season is obviously one of the most important seasons for the travel industry and to the American economy, whether it's in retail shopping, hotels [or] rental cars," he says. "We are deeply concerned about the possible effects of traveler frustration on a willingness to travel."

The new airport polices have even spawned an online movement asking all holiday travelers to protest the new airport polices by boycotting airports. But if you have to fly, the website encourages passengers to "opt out" of the full-body imaging scanners, and insist on the new thorough pat-down, in a private room.

Its YouTube videos ask travelers, "When will you put your foot down? When will you stand up? Opt out on Nov. 24 and every time you fly."

The goal of the movement is to back up checkpoint lines and cause delays on the busiest air travel day of the year.

So if you are among the estimated 1.5 million flying for Thanksgiving, you might want to plan on delays beyond the normal holiday rush.

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Sarah Gonzalez
Sarah Gonzalez is a host and reporter with Planet Money, NPR's award-winning podcast that finds creative, entertaining ways to make sense of the big, complicated forces that move our economy. She joined the team in April 2018.
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