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Posted at 4:00 PM ET, 12/23/2010

Quiet at local airports, crowds on roads

By Mark Berman
Mark Berman

Area travelers took to the roads and skies Thursday as the region began emptying out for the Christmas holiday, but congestion on the roads far outstripped issues at local airports.

At Reagan National Airport Thursday afternoon, "Silent Night" was piped in over loudspeakers in the airport's B/C terminal. If not for the music and Santa Claus roaming around, you wouldn't know it was two days before Christmas and that many people were just beginning their holiday getaways.

The general consensus from travelers at National was surprise at how easy it was. A security guard working one of the security lines said it felt "like any other day." There were some mild crowds in the morning, but after that it had been light all day.

"I was surprised. It couldn't have been easier," said Lydia Kline, 37. She flew in from Boston with her son, Jack Bondat-Masland, and scheduled three hours until her next flight because she expected crowds and delays. "Everyone was in a good mood. There's been no delays, no one seemed to be getting angry at anyone...This is the best it's ever been."

The seats lining the glass-walled side of the terminal were largely empty. The security lines were moving so briskly and quickly that some Transportation Security Administration officers standing at the security points were idly waiting for minutes for a passenger to approach with tickets.

Drivers hitting the road fared worse. Backups and congestion built up quickly for southbound travelers on I-95, with problems beginning shortly after 8 a.m. and not letting up through rest of the morning and into the late afternoon. As the afternoon arrived, so did delays on I-95 North as it crossed over from Maryland into Delaware.

The area's three airports didn't report any significant delays throughout most of the day, though BWI had a smattering of delays for various flights in all directions beginning after 10 a.m. Additional delays at JFK and Newark airports added to problems for travelers in the northeast.

The delays from BWI Airport were not out of the ordinary, said Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman. He said the crowds at the airport were what they anticipated.

Dean also advised travelers who haven't left yet to consider parking in the hourly or daily garages at the airport in case snow does fall this weekend.

Travelers heading to National Airport were surprised to find Santa and Mrs. Claus roaming the B/C terminal, taking photos and chatting with children and adults alike.

Dale and Trish Parris, retired Marines from Stafford, spent four hours on Wednesday and Thursday at the airport after being brought in by Westfield Concessions Management, the Los Angeles-based company that oversees retail stores and restaurants at National and at Dulles International Airport.

"I bet you like snow," Dale, a.k.a. Santa, said to one excited 8-year-old. "I love snow!"

"Sometimes kids are a little anxious when they travel," Trish said, while Dale posed for photos. "They don't expect to see Santa at the airport. Their eyes light up."

Sarah Thorn, a lobbyist from D.C., brought her young children early for their flight to Rhode Island in order to avoid any stress due to delays. "I thought it would be terrible lines and long security," said Thorn, 43. Instead, they breezed in. As a result, Claire, 5, and James, 2, had time to meet Santa.

The restaurants throughout the terminal were moderately crowded. However, the telltale sign of stressed and delayed travelers -- crowded airport bars -- was nowhere to be found, with most bar seats remaining empty.

Transportation Security Administration agents, who declined to speak on the record or be identified, said it had been like that all day and that they didn't expect things to get much more crowded or bustling as the day wore on.

They are anticipating about 1.2 million passengers to pass through National and Dulles between Dec. 17 and Dec. 27, said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees Dulles and Reagan National.

The busiest days were Wednesday and Thursday and the returning day of Sunday, she said. With forecasts predicting possible snow over the weekend, she also advised passengers coming back on Sunday to keep tabs on conditions.

"The big thing is always weather," she said. "We urge people to not only check with their airlines, but pay attention to the weather forecast where they're coming or going, because if anything tht's going to affect their flight."

[This post has been updated]

By Mark Berman  | December 23, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Airlines, Driving, Getaways  
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Comments

Maybe is quiet at the airports because they don't want to be subjected to either a nude scanner or a grope by the TSA.

Posted by: pooooop423 | December 23, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

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