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.
Some items are banned from carry-on luggage and checked-in luggage altogether, such as grenades or anything that looks like a grenade. Adams said there have been incidents where an artist has made an old grenade into a sculpture or a piece of art. The grenades are disarmed and can no longer explode. But they are still not acceptable on airline flights.
"If it's a realistic replica or an inert real one, it's also considered a prohibited item," she said, noting that just the site of a real-looking grenade could cause a panic.
The real problem for TSA screeners isn't guns, but rather contact solution, shampoo or any other liquid that isn't in a 3-ounce container. Adams said travelers need to remember the restrictions on liquids. She also cautioned travelers not to try to take wrapped presents through screening, noting that if there is a question about a package, it will have to be unwrapped and checked.
"We don't want all the nice effort to go to waste," she said, adding that gift bags are a better way to go.
While many of these restrictions may seem burdensome or an inconvenience to travelers, Adams said the TSA is only trying to keep people safe.
"The threat is still very real. There are certainly people who would like to harm American aviation, so all of the security procedures that are in place today are specifically to address that threat," she said.
In addition to flying, Fairclough said an estimated 215,000 people in the Mountain West are expected to travel this Thanksgiving by a mode of transportation other than plane or private automobile, such as a boat, train or bus. It's a 4.9 percent increase over last year, she said.
For those traveling by ground, Fairclough said, the good news is that gas prices have been dropping. In the past week, the average price for a gallon of gas in Utah has dropped from $3.71 to $3.65, she said.
Families driving long distances, especially those traveling in areas where there could be winter weather, should keep at least a half-tank of gas in their vehicles at all times, Fairclough said. Other winter driving tips include keeping a blanket, gloves, hats and food in the car; staying with the vehicle if it gets stuck in snow; and making sure the exhaust isn't plugged with snow.
KSL meteorologist Grant Weyman said most Utahns shouldn't have to worry about snow this weekend. The forecast calls for a windy travel day Wednesday as a storm hits to the north of Utah in the Washington, Oregon and Idaho areas. The forecast for southern Utah on Wednesday and Thursday is breezy and warm.
And if drivers have a little too much to drink at Grandma's house this weekend, AAA Utah again is offering its Tipsy Tow program. On Nov. 22 and Nov. 23, if a person is too drunk to drive, they can call AAA and have a tow truck take both the driver and their vehicle home.
In the past, Fairclough said, it wasn't enough just to offer a drunk driver a ride home.
"People would take the chance of driving home when they've had too much to drink. They didn't want the hassle of having to get their car the next day," she said.
The Tipsy Tow number is 800-222-4357.
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