Today is perhaps the busiest travel day of the year — in the middle of the busiest travel week of the year — travel experts have some advice for travelers to make their journeys home as smooth as possible.
For those flying on Thanksgiving, expect crowded airports and airport parking lots until Monday, Dec. 2, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The peak times for holiday flights is early in the morning, between 5:30 and 8:00 a.m., and late afternoon, between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.
Because of the heavy volume of passengers, MWAA recommends getting to the airport two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights. Because planes will be so full, MWAA recommends packing lightly to ensure carry-on luggage fits in on-board compartments and under the seats.
For those leaving the area in their cars, the Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock writes that on the I-95 corridor, traffic will only begin to ease up tonight after 11:00 p.m., and it will start to get heavy again on Thursday at around 9:00 a.m.
Those going south on I-95 should remember that there’s a 29-mile work zone south of Springfield, so drivers can take a 20-mile workaround by taking I-66 West to Route 28 South in Centreville, then to Route 17, which meets up with I-95 around Fredericksburg.
More than 1 million D.C. area residents will travel at least 50 miles during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday period, AAA Mid-Atlantic projects, but the number of travelers will actually be lower than last year.
AAA says 1,058,000 people will journey out of the Washington area, down from 1,070,5000 last year. A projected 90.7 percent of travelers will get out of town via automobile, while 6.9 percent will take planes. The remainder will take rail and other travel methods.
The D.C. region was home to about 5.9 million residents as of 2012.
From the AAA Mid-Atlantic press release:
All in all, that’s 12,000 fewer persons this time around, but you probably won’t notice any difference on area roads, or at airline ticket counters and bus and train stations in the Washington metro area. Remarkably, the overall volume of local holiday travelers has numbered over one million persons for the three past Thanksgiving holidays, and the same is true this year too, after rebounding from the recession-driven declines in 2008-2009. That’s when Thanksgiving travel fell by a staggering 25 percent.
“Still over one million local residents are in the travel mode and mood this Thanksgiving holiday period, as the number of Thanksgiving travelers tops the one million person mark for the fourth year in a row,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Despite the big drop in gas prices this holiday when compared to last Thanksgiving, local residents have been coping with the lingering impact of the sequestration and they are still reeling from the effects of the federal government shutdown in October, both of which hit the regional labor market really hard, especially government contract workers, at the psychic, pocketbook and deeply personal levels.”
A high school and middle school exchange program to France could be on its last legs after Arlington Public Schools administration took a closer look at its travel policies.
Up until this school year, teachers had been granted “professional leave” for a two-week student exchange trip to Reims, France, one of Arlington’s sister cities. But that is coming to an end, jeopardizing the Reims exchange program — a possibility that’s upsetting some parents.
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Constance Skelton said it has been APS policy that teachers were not permitted to take professional leave for international trips. The Reims program has apparently been an exception. Starting this year, however, teachers will not be able to take more than one day of paid leave — a personal day — before the spring break trip to France.
“We realized within our own policies that we do not allow administrators or teachers to have professional leave for international trips with student groups,” Skelton told ARLnow.com. “When this all came to light, we said ‘we have to go with our policy.’ We had to make that clear.”
Skelton said there was confusion about who was actually approving the trips and teachers’ paid leave. She said Superintendent Patrick Murphy was concerned about the potential for APS’ liability in case an incident were to happen overseas.
“People were not aware of the policy,” Skelton said. Instead of the leave going through typical approval channels, “none of that had ever been happening, the trips were just occurring.”
Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Brenda Wilks — a former foreign language teacher — said that despite the renewed enforcement of School Board policy, it is APS’ hope that trips like the Reims exchange program continue.
“We never wanted to discourage travel,” Wilks said. “It enhances students’ education, we just need to adhere to the board policy.”
Parents of students who have taken the trip are convinced that the change in enforcement will kill the trip entirely. APS wants the Arlington Sister City Association to “separate the trip from the school” — to be responsible for collecting money and organizing trips and chaperones.
“The teachers who are involved told parents that there has been a definite sea change that will seriously inhibit their participation and thereby threaten the program as it has been conducted in the past,” one parent, Lori Rottenberg, said in an email. Lori and her husband, Chuck, said they have a child who has gone on the program and they have hosted a Reims student in their house. “All that the teachers do to prepare and run the trip cannot be done in a day, and the trip itself would be ridiculous if limited to just 7 days because of the length of the time involved to travel overseas.”
Rottenberg said that the teachers involved informed parents that the trip “may not happen this year” because of the new enforcement of school policy.
“This drastic action on the part of the school administration essentially signals the death knell of a wonderfully unique program that benefits students as well as the entire Arlington community,” said Natalie Roy, a Washington-Lee High School parent.
Representatives of the Arlington Sister City Association did not respond to a request for comment.
Photo by wox-globe-trotter via Wikipedia
The organization estimates that 811,500 people will travel at least 50 miles this weekend, a 2.6 percent increase from 2012. Of those travelers, 707,000 — or 87 percent — are expected to travel by car. About 8 percent will travel by air and 5 percent will travel by train, bus or boat, AAA projects.
AAA says the average traveler will journey about 600 miles, which is close to the national average. Gas prices are “unlikely to be a major factor for people in determining whether they will travel this Labor Day,” even though most consider the current national average of $3.54 a gallon “too high,” according to AAA.
“Call it summer’s last fling,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “After staying put throughout the summer, Washingtonians are yearning for travel, so they are getting the heck out of town for Labor Day. In fact, this is the fourth year of increases in local Labor Day travelers in the Washington metro area.”
“The effect of sequestration is still felt locally,” Townsend continued. “However, local residents can now gauge its full impact on their discretionary budgets with the recent announcement that the number of civilian furlough days has been reduced from 11 to six. That’s enough unanticipated good news to put folks around here in the mood to travel.”
The organization forecasts that 873,500 area residents will travel 50 miles or more from home this weekend, down nearly 2 percent from 890,600 last year.
Of those traveling, 795,000 (91 percent) will travel by car and 58,500 (6.6 percent) will travel by plane, AAA said. The air travel forecast is 10 percent below the 65,106 residents who traveled by air around this time last year.
The association blamed the drop in travel on the federal government sequester.
“Call it the ‘sequester siesta’ or ‘sequestration frustration’ and it is pulling down government spending across the national capital area,” AAA said in a press release. “Although they traveled at this time last year, many would-be travelers say they are cutting back on their vacation and sunny day travel plans for the time being. The sequester is lasting longer than first expected, and now most local workers are assuming the across-the-board federal spending cuts will continue throughout the summer months, the busiest travel season of the year, and it appears they are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.”
Of those traveling this weekend, almost two thirds are visiting family or friends. AAA says a third of all local travelers are going to a waterfront destination like the Maryland or Delaware shore.
So are you taking a “sequester siesta,” as AAA calls it, or are you planning to travel out of town this Memorial Day weekend?
Amidst the mad scramble to buy last minute presents or make New Year’s Eve plans, local residents have apparently been making a lot of travel plans. In fact, AAA predicts the region will experience “the greatest exodus from the Washington metro area in the 21st Century.”
More than 41 percent of local residents report travel plans of 50 miles or more during the holiday travel period from Saturday, December 22, 2012 to Tuesday, January 1, 2013. That’s a 2.3 percent increase over last year.
“During Christmas and New Year’s we will experience the highest travel volume this decade, especially by the roadways, the railways, and the waterways,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “The one exception is the airways, and this year, even that is making a comeback.”
90 percent of the travelers, or more than 2 million people, are expected to make their treks via automobile. About 130,000 people will fly out of D.C. area airports, which is about 5 percent higher than last Christmas.
AAA gives some credit for the travel boost to residents’ increased financial stability, along with lower gas and airfare prices.
People around the country and here in Arlington have already begun heading to their Thanksgiving destinations. In the D.C. metro area, the number of travelers is expected to be slightly higher than last year.
More than 1 million local residents are anticipated to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday, according to AAA. That’s a 1.3 percent increase over last year.
“The consistently solid travel numbers since the 2008 drop, despite high gas prices and a struggling economy, is impressive and reassuring,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “The ‘recovery’ rate of the number of holiday travelers has out-paced the economic recovery and, as Thanksgiving is primarily a family holiday, speaks to the importance of family in good times and bad.”
Meade noted that travelers should plan accordingly if driving to areas such as New York or New Jersey, which have been hurting for gasoline due to Superstorm Sandy. She spoke with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office and was informed that gas rationing was supposed to end yesterday (Sunday), but might need to be re-evaluated today.
“If gas rationing is going on, if there’s not enough gas for the people who live there, certainly bringing in other people who need gas will only make the situation worse,” Meade said.
AAA predicts air travel in the metro area will decrease by a little more than 1 percent, even though it shows air fare is about 11 percent lower than last year.
According to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the Thanksgiving travel rush began on Friday (November 16) and will continue through Monday, November 26. The busiest days are anticipated to be tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday, in addition to the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving.
Peak travel times are typically in the early morning from 5:30-8:00 a.m. and late afternoon from 3:30-5:30 p.m. There could also be a mid-day peak from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Travelers are advised to arrive at least two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight, especially during these peak times.
Student Ambassadors and Travelers Aid volunteers will be at Reagan National Airport to offer directions and answer traveler questions. The Student Ambassadors will be wearing distinctive yellow shirts and the Travelers Aid volunteers will be wearing blue blazers.
MWAA offers the following tips for travelers:
- Confirm the status of your flight directly with your airline before coming to the airport. Weather here or in other parts of the country can affect airline schedules across the route network.
- Print out your boarding pass in advance. Some airlines also offer electronic boarding passes.
- Bring government issued photo ID to the airport for all adult passengers.
- Expect full flights and full luggage bins on board.
- Pack wisely – no prohibited items in carry-on luggage; and no valuable items in checked luggage. Label your luggage so your name is plainly visible.
- Reagan National customers can check parking availability on the airport’s website or at 703-417-PARK. Economy tends to fill during holiday periods.
- For travelers not familiar with the airport, a printable one-page information sheets is available in the “Travel Tips” section at the airport website. Travelers can also follow MWAA on Twitter for updated information.
Free Slurpee Day — It’s 7/11, which can mean only one thing: it’s Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven. The convenience store chain is offering its customers a free 7.11 ounce Slurpee today from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The 7-Eleven website lists 22 stores in Arlington. [Slurpee.com]
Arlington Jeopardy Champ’s Run Ends — Arlington resident Stephanie Fontaine has more than $50,000 to show for her three-day winning streak on Jeopardy. Her streak ended with last night’s episode, when she came some $2,200 short of a fourth victory. [Sun Gazette]
Summer Staycation? — Arlington County’s CommuterPage Blog suggests that a “staycation” in Arlington may be a fun and inexpensive alternative to a leaving town on summer trip. [CommuterPage Blog]
Photo courtesy Scott Schlimmer
Twelve Arlington Public Schools employees traveled to Apple’s headquarters in Cupterino, California to meet with the company’s top executives over the extended Veterans Day weekend last year. The two day information gathering trip in November cost taxpayers a little less than $11,000.
Some of the attendees included School Board Member Libby Garvey and Superintendent Patrick Murphy. APS Spokeswoman Linda Erdos notes that of the 12, Garvey was the only one who traveled on her own dime.
As pointed out by the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, some think the trip was an excessive expense, especially considering Arlington spends more per student than any school system in the region. But APS believes it was well worth it.
“The purpose of the trip is really to talk about what Apple is doing as a company,” said Erdos. “They talk to school districts about how they could possibly collaborate. Because we are using the technology, we are very interested.”
APS has received three grants to purchase iPads for schools. The devices are already in use at schools throughout the county, and are said to be particularly beneficial for students with autism. APS would like to see the use of iPads and other technology spread to more classrooms.
“As educators, we’re looking for every opportunity to find places to support kids,” Erdos said. ”It has changed the way kids are learning and how they’re doing their work, and they’re very excited about it.”
There is an Apple office in Reston where APS plans to send its staff in the future for discussing available educational opportunities. When asked why the group didn’t simply visit the Reston location instead of heading to Cupertino, Erdos said the local office serves a different purpose.
“They’re different meetings and different people,” said Erdos. “The people that were in California were really the CEO and top executives from Apple. The center at Reston is really for instructional people. Our instructional leaders will continue to go there.”
Yesterday, Apple announced its first introduction of new or updated products since the death of Steve Jobs, and they’re all educational programs for iPad. The apps are free and allow students to perform a variety of functions such as downloading textbooks, viewing presentations or lectures and receiving assignments or quizzes from teachers.
“It just has a lot of practical application and apps that are free to classroom teachers,” said Erdos. “Our students are young students of the 21st century and we need to keep pace with the learning style that best fits their needs.”
Some APS schools are using other brands of tablets besides the iPad. However, teachers say Apple currently has more learning apps available than other companies.
In order to make your holiday traveling easier, the Virginia Department of Transportation is suspending most lane closures during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Here’s what VDOT said in a release:
RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is clearing a path for travelers this holiday season by lifting lane closures over the extended Christmas and New Year’s weekends.
VDOT will suspend lane closures from noon Friday, Dec. 23, to noon Tuesday, Dec. 27, and again from noon Friday, Dec. 30, to noon Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012.
“We want everyone to arrive safely at their destinations during the year-end holidays,” said VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley. “We are opening lanes where appropriate to increase lane capacity on our interstates and other major roads. I encourage motorists to do their part to keep one another safe by obeying all traffic laws, staying alert and engaged behind the wheel, and being courteous to your fellow motorists.”
While temporary work zones are lifted during the holiday period, VDOT is always prepared to mobilize in case of inclement weather. VDOT will monitor weather forecasts for any snow or ice that could affect travel over the holidays. Its offices and snow-removal equipment will be fully staffed in the event of any accumulation.
In addition, the Northern Virginia High Occupancy Vehicle Lane schedule is as follows:
The I-95/395 reversible lanes will be open to all traffic:
- Southbound from 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23 until 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24
- Northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24 until 6 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27 when HOV-3 takes effect
- HOV restrictions on I-95, 395 and 66 are lifted on Monday, Dec. 26
The I-95/395 reversible lanes will be open to all traffic:
- Southbound from 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30 until 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31
- Northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31 until 6 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3, when HOV-3 takes effect
- HOV restrictions on I-95, 395 and 66 are lifted on Monday, Jan. 2
According to AAA and the Associated Press, Thanksgiving airfare and the cost of filling a tank of gas are both up 20 percent this year.
Nonetheless, 42.5 million people nationwide are expected to hit the roads, rails and airways for Thanksgiving — the highest number since the beginning of the recession. Here in the Washington region, more than 1 million people are expected to travel for the holiday, and the vast majority of them will be getting to their destination via highways, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Are you among the intrepid Thanksgiving travelers?
So far it looks like smooth sailing at Reagan National Airport.
Currently, the FAA is not reporting any significant arrival or departure delays at the airport. As of about 9:00 this morning, the security lines at Terminal B were virtually non-existent.
In fact, the only thing crowded at the airport was the media truck parking area. We spotted at least 10 media vehicles parked on either side of the terminal.
That’s a 11 percent increase over least year and the highest number of area residents heading out for Thanksgiving since 2007.
“The Washington metro area has one of the strongest economies in the nation, and as evidence of this, we will likely see a double digit up-tick in the number of area residents traveling 50 miles or more from home for the holiday,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson John B. Townsend II said in a statement.
Also driving Washington area travel is the fact that “only 40 percent of D.C. residents were actually born in D.C.,” according to AAA.
Surprisingly, a whopping 95.4 percent of those leaving town are expected to do so in a car. Only 3.4 percent are flying, and only 1.2 percent are taking a bus, train or boat.
How are you going home this year?