www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-post-thanksgiving-travel-20121124,0,2166299.story

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Marylanders starting their return home from Thanksgiving

Roads and airport quiet as state braces for Sunday's traffic crush

By Candy Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

3:45 PM EST, November 24, 2012

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It was so quiet at BWI Marshall Airport Saturday morning, you could hear a little girl in pink singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" as she and her family awaited their luggage at Carousel 3.

Unlike the two days leading up to Thanksgiving, when the way out of town was clogged and people were so uptight you could have driven nails with their bodies, Saturday was as relaxed as a pair of jammies with feet.

Returning passengers congratulated themselves on their scheduling choice.

"We've flown on Thanksgiving and it's no fun, although you can get free tickets when you get bumped. But you don't want to do it with children," said Muffy Fenwick of Baltimore, who was returning from Chicago with Annie, 10, and Charlie, 8, in tow.

The Fenwick kids spent the Southwest flight writing their letters to Santa. Their mom enjoyed the post-holiday down time.

The Scofield family — grandma, mom and dad and three kids just back from a week in Orlando at Disney World — chose Saturday as their homecoming day when they made their reservations in July.

"This gives us Saturday afternoon and all Sunday for laundry and naps," said Joyce Scofield of Pomfret, the matriarch of the clan. "Besides, I've flown on Sunday. It will be horrible. We made a smart decision."

State transportation officials confirmed that the seeming tranquillity was real.

"If the days leading up to Thanksgiving are a rolling boil, the couple of days following the holiday are more of a lazy simmer," said Jonathan Dean, BWI spokesman.

AAA predicted 43.6 million people would travel 50 miles or more for the holiday, up about 0.7 percent from last year. AAA Mid-Atlantic estimated that 883,000 Marylanders — roughly one in six residents — would be leaving home, and 91 percent of the travel would be by car.

The silver lining is that return trips this weekend will probably be a little more spread out, said State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck.

"If people have been away since Tuesday, they're not going to wait until the last minute to get home," Buck said. "It's not like summer, when you're trying to squeeze the last bit of sunshine on the beach into the vacation."

A spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which runs tolled bridges and tunnels, said the Interstate 95 corridor experienced some backups on Wednesday and again on Thursday morning. Actual traffic numbers won't be available until later in the week.

"It was your typical Thanksgiving," said MdTA spokesman John Sales.

Both Buck and Sales urged Sunday travelers to choose off-peak hours — before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

Buck also urged motorists to register online for md511.org, the free personalized travel aid that provides real-time traffic alerts for Maryland roads.

Returning residents will find the average price at the gas pump 2 cents a gallon lower than last week's price and 22 cents a gallon lower than a month ago, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Averella. However, the average price is 11 cents a gallon higher than a year ago.

Back at the airport, the departure and arrival boards were filled with good news only good weather can bring: Boston flight, early; Dallas flight, early; Denver, early.

Southwest customer service representative Carol David led passengers waiting for luggage at Carousel 4 in a rousing version of "Itsy, Bitsy Spider."

"I won't be playing around Sunday because it will be chaos," David said. "You pray it goes smoothly, but whatever happens, happens. We'll be here for the passengers."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com