Thanksgiving travelers face intense security amid 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."
See the increased security measures:
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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