The traditionally busiest travel day on the U.S. calendar wasn't looking all that oppressive Wednesday as many folks apparently got a jump on the holiday — whether traveling in the air or on the ground.
Travelers were moving briskly through check-in and security lines at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on the afternoon before Thanksgiving, though airport officials expected to serve twice as many as an average Wednesday.
"It ebbs and flows during the day," said Paul Wiedefeld, executive director of BWI. The morning was busy with departures, he said, and the late afternoon was expected to be heavier with arrivals.
On Maryland highways, there were a few major incidents. A four-vehicle collision involving injuries on Interstate 83 temporarily closed that highway Wednesday morning. A rockslide about 7:30 a.m. on Interstate 68 near Cumberland disrupted traffic on the major route to the west until the road reopened about 1:40 a.m., State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar said.
At one point, he said, traffic was backed up well to the east of Cumberland.
Cheryl Sparks, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said traffic was moving briskly on the Intercounty Connector, which opened the connection between Interstates 95 and 270 early Tuesday. Sparks said about 19,000 vehicles used the easternmost leg of the highway in each direction in its first 24 hours. Newly operational travel cameras showed no signs of delay about 6 p.m.
Most other toll facilities were operating without serious delays, she said. However, two-way traffic on the eastbound Bay Bridge was suspended at the evening peak because of high winds — leading to backups to around St. Margarets Road.
BWI road traffic also appeared to be moving smoothly in the early afternoon — though traffic on Interstate 195 was beginning to back up by about 2:30 p.m.
About 70,000 people will use the airport Wednesday, Wiedefeld said. There seemed to be several moderately busy travel days before Thanksgiving this year, he said, instead of one very busy Wednesday.
Travelers have learned from experience, he said, adding that Tuesday morning was just as busy as Wednesday morning. "People have spread it out," he said. "Maybe next year, they'll do Monday."
Early Wednesday afternoon, the check-in lines at BWI were short or nonexistent.
Ted Dixon of Silver Spring set out early, expecting traffic delays, but found himself at the airport about four hours early for his flight.
"This is not even busy for a normal nonholiday," he marveled as he surveyed the scene near the Air Tran check-in counter. "It just seems a lot less hectic than past times."
Jennifer Otero of Cockeysville wasn't as surprised, saying the traffic on the day before Thanksgiving hasn't been as bad the past few years. But she remembers the bad old days when it was.
"I remember having to walk over people to sit down anywhere," said Otero, who was headed to Florida to visit family. "The past few years it hasn't been that bad. … I think maybe the airport's got it down better."
The Transportation Security Administration and the airlines have improved coordination with the airport in recent years, Wiedefield said, to even travelers out among the available security and ticket lines.
Southwest employees were advising travelers to use a new security checkpoint on the lower level of the airline's terminal. The checkpoint, which opened last week and is geared toward business travelers, is off the beaten path and was largely being ignored by Wednesday's fliers.
"I'm trying — nobody wants to go," said Stephanie Moynihan, who was assigned to coax passengers from the busier, main-level security line. The new line has been a hard sell; people did not believe that it would be quicker, she said.
Lora Othoudt, who was flying to Nashville, Tenn., to see family, said she was stunned by how easy it was to get to the gate areas. It was Othoudt's second attempt to get out of town for the weekend. She missed her Tuesday evening flight because of a traffic backup on Interstate 195 from the airport to Route 295.
"I was expecting a lot worse [Wednesday]," she said.