A breezy start reported for those getting away for the long holiday weekend

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Planes, trains and automobiles — it’s the traditional Thanksgiving holiday getaway day.

AAA is predicting a near-record holiday travel season this year, with 55 million Americans — including 1.4 million people from New Jersey — expected to travel 50 miles or more from home for the Thanksgiving break.

But in the air and on the rails and the roads during the day Wednesday, travelers in the Garden State at least were expressing pleasant surprise.

“It’s actually not bad at all! Traffic’s great,” said one motorist on the NJ Turnpike.

“I’ve been surprised. We were expecting more traffic,” said Kelly Tinsley, who stopped at the Grover Cleveland Service Area along the Turnpike in Woodbridge, halfway through an expected eight-hour family journey. “When you’ve got three kids and two dogs in one vehicle, it’s a really good thing,” Tinsley said with a laugh.

Jill Skelton of Maryland echoed the sentiment. “It’s been fine, actually. It’s one of our better trips, yet. Yeah, we haven’t really hit any traffic and we’re almost there.”

Just the same, the real crunch was expected Wednesday evening, when the holiday travelers intersect with commuters. And some drivers said they had run into delays Tuesday, indicating that many Thanksgiving travelers now depart sooner to get a jump start on holiday weekend.

“Today’s been pretty good,” said Lynne Hedrick of Hampton, VA. “Yesterday was a lot of traffic. So we stopped in the Baltimore area, and then continuing today.”

The observation was confirmed by AAA.

“We are starting to see more people travel prior to Wednesday of Thanksgiving,” said Jeanette Casselano, public affairs manager for the group. “If your schedule’s flexible, we always recommend it, because Wednesday is usually the heaviest day in terms of travel, whether that’s at the airport or on the roads.

According to the Mid-Atlantic branch of the travel club, this could be the biggest Thanksgiving travel event since 2005, when the agency recorded the most trips of more than 50 miles from home between Wednesday and Sunday of the holiday weekend. The projection of 1.4 million Garden State holiday travelers represents a 2.7% increase over last year.

“Wages are a little bit higher, so people feel a little extra jingle in their pocket and they’re inclined to spend that on traveling,” Casselano said.

PATH’s running extra trains, and NJ Transit offered getaway train and bus service Wednesday. Flights were moving briskly at Newark Liberty International Airport.

“Yeah, so far, so good. Newark is usually a little crowded, but it seems pretty empty today. So, should be good to go,” said Riley Clark now of Tampa but originally from Wayne.

“It’s been great,” said Jan Collier. “I actually came from Birmingham, and went to New York to meet my son, and we rode the train from New York to here. And now we’re all going to Boston to meet the rest of the family.”

Departure boards at Newark showed some delays — mostly, flights impacted by snowstorms that recently slammed the nation’s mid-section and were causing significant holdups elsewhere in the country.

The Port Authority expects 585,000 passengers to move through Newark over the long holiday weekend. For some, it was a special occasion — like 10-month-old Addison who was taking her first airplane trip.

“Are you anxious?’ Christine Connelly asked her baby.

How about mommy? Was she anxious?

“First flight with a toddler? I’m more anxious that she is, definitely,” the Berkeley Heights resident said.