Holiday Travelers Benefit From Spread-Out Season

NEW YORK -- As travelers take to road, air and sky in the sometimes-hectic last days before Christmas, they should keep one thing in mind: It could be worse.

Planes took off into windy but accommodating skies Thursday morning at New York's LaGuardia Airport as Steve Kent prepared to fly to Denver for a family ski trip, scoffing at the puny lines.

"I don't find it that difficult," he said. "I think Thanksgiving is harder."

Though Christmas and New Year's travel is expected to be up from last year, the spread-out nature of these holidays means things won't be quite so cramped as Thanksgiving, for instance, when practically everyone who's going somewhere is on the move the same day.

"We have a lot of folks who already may have taken off of work," said Troy Green, a spokesman for AAA. "They may have arrived at their destination before today."

The AAA has expected overall travel to rise about 3 percent this year, with more than 92 million people planning to go more than 50 miles sometime between now and Jan. 2.

The Vino Volo Wine Room at Detroit Metropolitan Airport is benefiting from the heavier travel, manager Mark Del Duco said Thursday.

"The Christmas mood is more there this year than last," he said, estimating that sales are up this 10 percent this season compared with last year as financially confident travelers spend more freely.

Helping matters is that the most densely populated parts of the country are getting a break from the weather.

Rains that have been pounding California have stopped. And while a snowstorm is making its way across the country, it's not expected to hit the crowded East Coast until the weekend, when people are settled at their destinations -- though it could make for a tricky return trip.

Swaths of the Rocky Mountain region and Midwest expect snow Thursday and Friday, but nothing widely crippling. The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings for parts of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico and advisories for other parts, including an area stretching from Wyoming to Illinois.

After record-breaking snow falls in the East and a treacherous Christmas travel season in the nation's midsection last year, the ways weather can mess up travel seem to be on plenty of minds.

At LaGuardia, Mike and Martha Lee Mellis waited to fly to Aspen, Colo., with their three young sons. They dreaded a repeat of last winter's ski trip, when a snowstorm hit while they were transferring in Chicago on their way home.

"We had to return via Philadelphia, and I had to rent a car and drive everybody home at 11 at night," Mike Mellis recalled.

His wife had been trying to forget, saying, "I've blocked it all out."