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Thanksgiving travel on the rebound

Rachel Baye
A TSA checkpoint at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport

Thanksgiving travel, which dropped significantly last year because of the pandemic, is coming back this year. AAA Mid-Atlantic is predicting more than 1.1 million Marylanders will be traveling over the holiday weekend, more than 71,500 by air.

The figure for air travel is up 70 percent from last year, but not quite back to pre-pandemic levels.

Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, has some advice for those who are flying.

“My number one advice is to get to the airport early,” she says. “Get there about two hours before your flight out of BWI.”

It will be hard to find a parking space, she says. If you’re returning a rental car, that will take longer than you might expect. And then there are the lines at the TSA checkpoints where they’ll be checking, among other things, food.

“We see this every year,” she says. “We're going to see people traveling with whole turkeys, frozen turkeys, frozen ham. They're going to be traveling with their favorite cakes and pies and cookies and brownies. All those items can go through a checkpoint because they're solid.” 

So, don’t be surprised if a TSA agent swabs that box of stuffing mix to make sure there aren’t any explosives. Most of all, don’t try to get any liquids through the checkpoints. The wine, the champagne, the cider, the gravy, anything gelatinous, put it in your checked bags. Farbstein has a simple rule.

“If you're ever unsure if something is a liquid, gel, solid, this is the tip,” she explains. “If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it then it needs to go in your check bag.”

Farbstein has one more piece of advice: Wear a mask.

“So when you enter the airport, the terminal itself, wear a mask,” she says. “When you get to the checkpoint, wear a mask. At the gate masks should still be on and, of course, during your flight.”

Make sure to keep that mask on until you’re out of the airport at your destination, Farbstein warns.

If you’re driving, the heaviest travel day will be Wednesday this week. It’s always been that way, says Ragina Ali, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“We don't expect that to be any different this year,” she says. “And with Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you have the people that are trying to get out of town mix with commuters that may have been working.” 

And Sunday won’t be that much better as people start their return trips, Ali predicts. Much of that has to do with the numbers of people who feel more comfortable traveling, she says.

A poll by AAA Mid-Atlantic last year found that 43 percent of Maryland residents said holiday travel posed a significant risk for COVID-19.

“This year, a similar poll found only 10% feel that traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday poses a significant risk for COVID,” she says.

Although there were fewer cars on the roads last year, law enforcement agencies reported sharp increases in reckless driving and speeding. Ali says AAA also saw many cases in which people neglected routine maintenance because their cars were sitting idle in the driveway. They weren’t commuting back and forth to work or shuttling the kids to soccer practice, ball games, dance lessons.

“So, what we are doing at AAA is very much reminding motorists to make sure if they're hitting the roads, that their cars are road ready,” she says. “AAA expects to rescue nearly 6,700 members over this Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Maryland alone.”

Ed McDonough, spokesman for Maryland’s Department of Emergency Management, says there are some safety tips to follow when traveling: know before you go, if you see something, say something and be aware of local COVID regulations.

Make sure there are no detours on the highways you normally take, stay informed about accidents and road closures. Keep up with air, rail and bus schedules to know about delays and cancellations.

“So just get a way to find out when things change,” he says. “Because inevitably things are changing because of staffing issues because of the crunch of travel. So, know before you leave, so you can plan ahead for what might be ahead.”

If you see something, say something doesn’t apply just to suspicious packages or characters, McDonough adds.

“Even if you're out on the highway and you see debris in the roadway, or you see a disabled vehicle on the side of the road, don't assume that someone else is going to call and let the highway department or law enforcement know about it,” he says. “You make that effort.”

And being aware of local COVID regulations could save you some embarrassment if the folks you’re visiting decide to go out for dinner some night over the long weekend.

“It would be kind of awful if everybody else was going out and the restaurant required vaccination proof, and you left your card at home and you don't have a mobile app to show it on,” McDonough says.

And pack a few extra masks, he adds. You never know when you might need them.

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.