Expect delays if you travel over holiday

Herald staff and news services

The first wave of holiday travelers packed highways and jammed airport terminals Tuesday as one of the busiest travel periods of the year began, with labor disputes threatening to snarl air travel.

United and Northwest airlines again blamed their mechanics for flight delays Monday and Tuesday. The workers are seeking new labor contracts, but no strike is anticipated before next year at the earliest.

Delta Air Lines also expects slowdowns and cancellations through Thanksgiving week because pilots seeking a new contract have stopped requesting voluntary overtime, the airline said.

Paul Hudson, executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, said the airlines should have reduced their schedules or added temporary help to avoid inconveniencing passengers.

"But that hasn’t been the practice at many airlines," he said. "They attempt to hide the problem or blame the unions."

Not that everyone is traveling by air. Amtrak officials said they expected 580,000 riders this week, up from 420,000 during an average week. With a record 115,000 people expected to travel by rail Wednesday, the railroad prepared by adding 65,000 seats nationwide.

Bus companies called up extra drivers. Greyhound Lines Inc. expected nearly 1 million passengers between Wednesday and Monday.

"We’re going to have all hands on deck," spokeswoman Kristin Parsley said. "Even corporate employees have to be willing to help out with ticketing and bags."

The American Automobile Association predicted that a record 39 million Americans would travel more than 100 miles from home this week, with four out of five going by car. The average price of gasoline across the nation is $1.57 per gallon — about 25 cents more than a year ago.

The Washington State Patrol will join a nationwide effort over the Thanksgiving holiday to reduce traffic deaths and injuries by stepping up enforcement of speeding, impaired driving, use of seat belts and child safety restraints.

Troopers will join Operation CARE (Combined Accident Reduction Effort), focusing on Washington’s 764 miles of interstate highways.

Last year, 10 people died in traffic crashes in Washington over the Thanksgiving weekend. Speeding was a factor in three deaths. Four of the fatalities were pedestrians.

Over the holiday weekend in 1998, two people died, while four died in the same period in 1997 and three in 1996. The highest number of Thanksgiving weekend traffic deaths since record keeping began in 1962 were 18 deaths in 1964.

There have been 500 traffic deaths this year in Washington through Nov. 15, which is 9 percent below last year, when 637 people died in traffic crashes. The 1999 total was a 36-year low.

Troopers also will assist motorists who have problems during their travels. For more information, call State Patrol District 7 spokesman Lt. Mark Thomas at 360-658-2588.

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