Travelers getting ready for Thanksgiving

Estimated 3.2 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more this week for Thanksgiving

Published: Monday, Nov. 19 2012 5:15 p.m. MST

Travelers make their way through the security area Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — If you're traveling to Grandma's house this week for Thanksgiving, pack a windbreaker, prepare to see a lot of other drivers on the road — and leave your grenades at home.

Those are just a few of the tips officials are offering as the nation heads into one of its busiest travel seasons of the year.

In the Mountain West region, consisting of Utah and seven other states, an estimated 3.2 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more this week for Thanksgiving. Of those, 2.8 million will be traveling by car, slightly more than last year, said AAA of Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough.

"Ever since 2008, we've had a slight increase in travel every year," Fairclough said. "It's slow and steady. I think this kind of reflects how the economy is improving."

The average family in the Mountain West is expected to drive 607 miles this Thanksgiving weekend, she said.

Nationally, an estimated 43 million people are expected to get on a plane, train or automobile to spend the four-day weekend somewhere away from home, Fairclough said.

When people feel they have extra money in their pockets, they're more likely to plan a trip to Grandma's house, she said.

An estimated 197,000 people in the Mountain West are expected to fly this Thanksgiving to their destinations. That's a 1.9 percent decrease from 2011, Fairclough said.

Still, officials from the Transportation Security Administration said, air travelers should expect longer-than-average screening lines at the airports.

To make the lines go more quickly and to save people from potentially embarrassing situations, the TSA offered a few tips Monday to help air travelers have a smoother experience.

One big tip is for passengers to completely check their luggage before taking it to the airport, said Vera Adams, the federal security director for the TSA's Utah division. Air travelers sometimes forget to remove items that are prohibited — and could potentially result in criminal charges — from their carry-on luggage before going through TSA screening, Adams said.

"Most of it is forgetful and not being prepared or not knowing the rules," she said. "Occasionally we do have people who try to sneak stuff through, but that's pretty few and far between."

Adams displayed several actual items confiscated from passengers during a news conference Monday at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Among the items were a grenade, a nose cone to a military ordnance, explosives used for avalanche control, guns, ninja throwing stars, gun powder, knives and black powder.

"We get ammunition all day long because people leave it in their bag after their hunting trip or trip to the range," Adams said.

Likewise, someone who is returning from a backcountry skiing trip will accidentally leave an avalanche explosive device in their backpack or bear spray from a camping trip.

"Every year, we get a firearm every other week. And they're almost always loaded," she said.

Through Monday, 18 guns had been discovered in luggage and were seized this year by TSA agents at the Salt Lake City International Airport, Adams said. In the majority of cases, the weapons were loaded.

Guns and knives are not completely banned from airlines, she said. But they have to be properly secured and checked, and the carrier must have the proper paperwork.

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