Thanksgiving travelers face intense security amid terror threat

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Thanksgiving Travelers Face Intense Security Amid ISIS Terror Threat

Americans trying to get out of town for Thanksgiving face more intense screening, longer security lines and a scary global warning from the State Department — but many say fears of terrorism won't keep them grounded.

"It worries everybody, but if you're confident and you have faith, what else can you do?" Hartford resident Wanda Valle told NBC Connecticut as crowds filled Bradley Airport for the holiday rush. "Whatever is going to happen is going to happen."

The bombing of a Russian jet, the attacks in Paris and threats in Brussels have put the world on edge. The State Department's Monday night alert — warning that Islamist militants are planning attacks in "multiple regions" — only added to the jitters.

A State Department spokesman said Tuesday the point of the directive was not to discourage travel but to encourage Americans "to be very prudent, very vigilant."

President Obama, flanked by members of his national security team, made a statement Wednesday from the White House reassuring Americans they should go about their normal Thanksgiving holiday activities.

"I want the American people to know that we are taking every possible step to take America safe," Obama said. "Right now, we know of no specific and credible intelligence indicating a plot on the homeland."

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Thanksgiving travelers face intense security amid terror threat
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: Thanksgiving travelers pack Penn Station on November 25, 2015 in New York, United States. Security has been heightened in major U.S. cities going into the holidays despite no known threats. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: People go through security at JFK Airport the day before Thanksgiving on November 25, 2015 in the Queens borough of New York City. One of the biggest travel days of the year, area airports and other travel hubs are experiencing increased security following the terrorist attacks in Paris. Security in New York City has been heightened as experts try to determine the nature of threats from ISIS and other Jihadist groups. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: People wait to go through security at JFK Airport the day before Thanksgiving on November 25, 2015 in New York City. One of the biggest travel days of the year, area airports and other travel hubs are experiencing increased security following the terrorist attacks in Paris. Security in New York City has been heightened as experts try to determine the nature of threats from ISIS and other Jihadist groups. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Travelers wait to check-in to American Airlines Group Inc. kiosks at Ronald Reagan National airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. Airlines for America, the trade group for most large carriers, estimated 25.3 million people will fly on U.S. carriers from Nov. 20 through Dec. 1 during the Thanksgiving holiday, a 3 percent increase over 2014. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Amtrak police stand guard as they wait for Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to arrive to speak about holiday travel safety, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, outside of a Metro subway station at Union Station in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Valarie Settle, of Roanoke Va., waits in line at a Greyhound station to board a bus as she heads to California for the Thanksgiving holiday Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Atlanta. An estimated 46.9 million Americans are expected to take a car, plane, bus or train at least 50 miles from home over the long holiday weekend, according to the motoring organization AAA. That would be an increase of more than 300,000 people over last year, and the most travelers since 2007. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A traveler holds a dog as she checks in at American Airlines at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
People walks past New York State Police officers at Grand Central Station on November 24, 2015 in New York. After a string of terror attacks in several countries, the US government issued a worldwide travel alert warning American citizens of 'increased terrorist threats'. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
An Amtrak Police officer watches passengersas they board a train at Penn Station on November 24, 2015 in New York. After a string of terror attacks in several countries, the US government issued a worldwide travel alert warning American citizens of 'increased terrorist threats'. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO. - NOVEMBER 24: Travelers check in at the United Airlines ticket counter Tuesday morning at Denver International Airport. The main terminal was relatively busy even on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Airport officials expect Sunday to be the busiest travel day of the holiday week. (Photo By Steve Nehf / The Denver Post)
People walks past members of the Army National Guard at Grand Central Station on November 24, 2015 in New York. After a string of terror attacks in several countries, the US government issued a worldwide travel alert warning American citizens of 'increased terrorist threats'. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
A traveler rests on the floor as American Airlines aircraft are lined up the the gates at Miami International Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Miami. Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel holidays of the year, both in the air and on the roads. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Military personnel walk through a terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A person in a turkey costume gives Nasreen Qasimi, 1, a toy airplane at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Security personnel walk through a terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. An estimated 46.9 million Americans are expected to take a car, plane, bus or train at least 50 miles from home over the long Thanksgiving weekend, according to the motoring organization AAA. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Travelers wait to go through security at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A worker unloads bags off a bus from Washington as it arrives ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Atlanta. A stronger economy and lower gas prices mean Thanksgiving travelers can expect more congested highways this year. During the long holiday weekend, 46.9 million Americans are expected to go 50 miles or more from home, the highest number since 2007, according to travel agency and car lobbying group AAA. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Passengers are reflected in a bus window at a downtown station ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Atlanta. An estimated 46.9 million Americans are expected to take a car, plane, bus or train at least 50 miles from home over the long holiday weekend, according to the motoring organization AAA. That would be an increase of more than 300,000 people over last year, and the most travelers since 2007. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
US Department of Homeland Security police walk through Penn Station on November 24, 2015 in New York. After a string of terror attacks in several countries, the US government issued a worldwide travel alert warning American citizens of 'increased terrorist threats'. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
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Security teams are working "overtime" to protect the public, he added.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs three of the nation's busiest airports and other travel hubs, said its police force is on "heightened alert" at all facilities.

"Actions include increased patrols and checks of bags, buses, trucks and trains at agency locations. Travelers also are reminded to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities to police or other authorities," the agency said.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration urged travelers to get to the airport two hours before a flight to allow extra time for screenings — and to keep their eyes peeled.

"We encourage travelers to be vigilant & report any suspicious activity to law enforcement," the agency tweeted Tuesday in response to a question about how seriously ticket-holders should take the State Department alert. "If you see something, say something."

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota, officials said bags and passengers would face extra scrutiny, resulting in longer lines.

"Even a few seconds per person is going to add up," airport spokeswoman Melissa Scovron told NBC affiliate KARE.

John Hobday of Minnetonka told the station he had already witnessed extra attention even before the holiday travel got under way.

"I was in Calgary over the weekend. I just noticed in customs, on the way in, immigration was asking more questions than I would normally be used to," he said. "Normally they would go through their paperwork and ask you something but this was, 'What do you do for work? and 'Oh, what background do you have for that? and 'Interesting, and that qualifies you to do this?'"

Despite the fears, the number of Thanksgiving travelers went up this year for the seventh year in a row. According to AAA, 46.9 million people will be traveling over the long holiday weekend, 89 percent by car.

Contributing to the increase: Gas prices this Thanksgiving week are the lowest they've been since 2008.

George Hobica, founder of the travel site airfarewatchdog.com, said it does not appear the security concerns have hurt airlines' business.

"We haven't seen any fire sales at all, at least in airfares," he said. "Airfares to Brussels and Paris have not gone down."

Hobica said many travelers were taking the latest in a long list of travel alerts in stride.

"I think we have to put this in perspective," he said. "The number of people killed in Baltimore from gun violence was over 300, but the State Department is not saying, 'don't go to Baltimore.'"

At Los Angeles International Airport, 2.1 million passengers were expected over the holiday — a Thanksgiving record and a 6.9 percent increase over last year, according to NBC Los Angeles. No flights there have been canceled or delayed so far, a spokeswoman told The Los Angeles Times.

Unlike last year, when a winter storm snarled Thanksgiving travel for millions in the Northeast, forecasters suggested most of the country would be spared similar levels of weather-related misery.

Although a patchwork of winter warnings and watches covered a large area across the northern Rockies and the interior West early Wednesday, the only large cities threatened by snow looked likely to be Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The East and much of the South had clear forecasts for Wednesday, traditionally the busiest travel day of the year, and Thanksgiving itself.

One area that could see potential flooding later in the week was a corridor from New Mexico and Texas to Illinois and Indiana that could get as much as five inches of rain through Saturday — with eight inches in some localized areas, according to Weather Channel lead meteorologist Kevin Roth.

"For the day before Thanksgiving it's going to be relatively quiet for most of the country," Roth said.

Heavy rainfall could also bring flash flooding from north Texas into Oklahoma, eastern Kansas and the western two-thirds of Missouri into Thanksgiving night, The Weather Channel reported.

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