NEW YORK – Some trains were sold out and light snow slowed traffic in Denver, but short airport lines and a few major delays surprised people on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday.
"I was expecting it to be a lot harder," said William Hanson, 21, a University of Denver student who had only a brief wait at Denver International Airport on his way home to Milwaukee.
Triphenya Bailey, a spokeswoman at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, said she was not aware of any problems. Lines through security stayed short and moved steadily.
"It's been a really good day before Thanksgiving. I think it's one of the better ones we've had," Bailey said.
Surveys indicated a record 38.7 million U.S. residents were likely to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday between Wednesday and Sunday, up about 1.5 percent over last year, according to the AAA auto club.
Nearly 80 percent of them were expected to drive despite gas prices that were nearly 85 cents more per gallon than they were a year earlier. The national average for regular gasoline on Nov. 16 was $3.09 a gallon, up from $2.23 on Nov. 17, 2006.
"The question becomes 'Is $10 or $15 more for gas enough to change travel plans?' and obviously most Americans said 'no,"' said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson in Washington.
Gas prices entered into Christopher Bruce's decision to take a circuitous, 11-hour train ride instead of driving from western Pennsylvania to Baltimore.
"Yeah, it takes the whole day, but it's cheaper in the long run, by the time I fill up the tank, get a meal and everything," Bruce, a student at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, said at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.
Airports took steps to move people quickly. Arizona's Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport had about 400 volunteers on hand to answer passenger questions and help direct traffic, spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher said.
Some travelers also got entertainment. Four Rockettes dancers circulated around Chicago's O'Hare International, demonstrating their high kicks, handing out candy canes, and posing for photos with travelers such as 9-year-old Zac Wasendorf and 2-year-old brother Erik, who were heading to Orlando, Florida.
"This is gonna be the best holiday card ever," the boys' mother, Amber Wasendorf of Chicago, said of the photo.
Another reason for the smoother-than-expected sailing on Wednesday seemed to be that more people are turning Thanksgiving into an extended vacation rather than a long weekend, said Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride.
"It looks like people started the holiday on the 16th, the Friday before," Pride said. But while O'Hare expected about 206,000 travelers Wednesday — some 3,000 less than an average day — Monday is likely to be hectic with 237,000 people, she said.
Amtrak said several trains were sold out Wednesday. Amtrak expected more than 115,000 riders for the day, about a 70 percent increase over a usual Wednesday, spokesman Cliff Cole said.
In New York, the subways that feed into Penn Station were packed with commuters — and luggage — heading out for the holiday. The trains were so crowded that arguments broke out between passengers pushing for more space.
Weather was not a big factor Wednesday, said Michael Musher, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Although snow bogged down traffic in parts of Denver, and made some Colorado mountain roads slushy, snowy or icy, only two flights were listed as delayed at Denver International Airport, the fourth busiest in the U.S. Airport officials spent $31 million on snow-removal equipment this year, following a storm last December that shut the airport down for two days.
Up to 9 inches of snow fell in parts of Colorado, to the relief of skiers who had been getting nervous. Some resorts had postponed their opening dates because of little snowfall and warm temperatures, but Vail Mountain opened a run Wednesday and resorts across the West planned to open runs over the weekend.
"Everybody knew it would come. It's just a matter of patience," said Jason Roberts, 31, of Avon, Colorado, after skiing down Vail's Born Free trail.