SEATTLE — Travelers heading home after the long Thanksgiving weekend had yet another reason to be thankful on Sunday: favorable weather and few airport delays reported on what is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year.
Although there was little elbow room on packed buses, trains and airplanes, travel appeared to be running smoothly as millions of people trekked home after feasting with family and friends.
Experts had predicted a slight rise in the number of people traveling this Thanksgiving weekend compared to last year. Some 43.6 million Americans were expected to journey 50 miles or more between Wednesday and Sunday, and more of them were likely to be driving while fewer were flying, according to AAA's yearly analysis.
Mauro Scappa and his wife, Chris, and their two children were among those who chose not to take to the skies. They braced themselves for delays as they waited at New York's Penn Station for a train back to Washington, near their home in Falls Church, Va. But their train was expected on time Sunday morning.
"We definitely wanted to avoid the airport on Thanksgiving weekend, for sure," Scappa said.
Renee Kerns, her husband Mike and their two children left about 30 minutes earlier than usual to catch a flight to home to California. They anticipated longer lines at the Washington-area Dulles International Airport, but sailed through security in about 10 minutes and were at their gate for their 8:30 a.m. flight to Oakland, Calif., more than an hour before their flight.
"It was fine," Renee Kerns said of getting through security. Added her husband: "Easy, but we're early."
Helped by dry weather and mostly clear skies, both O'Hare and Midway international airports in Chicago reported normal operations Sunday with no delays.
Leonard Reddick, 29, waited near downtown Chicago for a bus back to Flint, Mich. He traveled on Thanksgiving day to see his sister in the Chicago area, explaining that it's his trick for avoiding the huge crowds on the day before the holiday. He also liked the $84 roundtrip fare.
Reddick, who works at General Motors, was rethinking one decision as he was gearing up for the five-hour trip back home to Michigan: He had declined the turkey and mac and cheese leftovers because he thought it might mess up his luggage.
The tens of millions of holiday travelers also included a few thousand users of Megabus, the ultra-cheap inter-city network popular among students and the creative class. Shane Dillon, 26, a librarian now living and seeking work in Chicago, joined the throng waiting to board at Detroit's Rosa Parks Transit Center for the return trip to the Windy City. He was in the area visiting relatives in Allen Park, Mich.
"It was great to see family and friends. The food was good," Dillon said. A few days, though, was enough. "I'm glad to be going home."
Dense fog greeted travelers at Union Station in Los Angeles early Sunday, but it didn't appear to cause problems.
Mike Lansing, 63, and his wife Kay, 60, opted to take Amtrak for the first time to their home in the San Francisco Bay area after weighing high gas prices. They spent a week in LA with their daughter, son-in-law and new grandson.
He said he's relieved not to have to get behind the wheel. "I don't know if we're really saving any money, but it's an adventure!" said Kay Lansing.
Other travelers strategically hit the road early, or planned to wait until much later Sunday to avoid possible bumper-to-bumper traffic that bogged down drivers on Wednesday.
Craig Haft, 57, left Cincinnati with his wife and daughter around 6:15 a.m. Sunday to drive to their home in Fairfax, Va., after visiting family. At mid-day Sunday, he reported smooth driving.
"It went fine on Wednesday and has been good so far today," he said.
Some were upbeat despite long journeys ahead. Andy Harbison, 38, said he didn't mind the 8-hour drive back to Harrisburg, Pa. after visiting family in Michigan.
The roads were good, he said, and he simply enjoyed being with family after being away from them during previous deployments to Iraq and Kuwait while in the National Guard.
At the Boise Airport, Charles Beyer, 59, waited for luggage after having just arrived from Portland, Ore., where he visited his son and daughter. He said he found most of his fellow passengers complacent about the challenges of traveling during the holiday weekend through packed airports.
"The good old days of pulling up to the curb and getting onto the airplane in five minutes are long gone," he said.
AP reporters David N. Goodman in Detroit, Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho; Pam Ramsey in Charleston, W.Va.; Sophia Tareen in Chicago; Jennifer Peltz in New York; Chris Weber in Los Angeles; Jessica Gresko in Sterling, Va.; Kristi Eaton in Sioux Falls, S.D; and Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.