Be it plane or train, bus or car, millions of Americans will be traveling across the country to devour turkey and stuffing with their families next week. Airports, train services and bus services say they’re ready, beefing up security anscreenings to get passengers safely to and from their holiday destinations in the wake of last week's deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.
A AAA survey released Wednesday indicates 46.9 million Americans will journey at least 50 miles from their homes during Thanksgiving this year -- the highest number to take to the roads during the all-American holiday in eight years. Driving will be the most popular mode of travel, the survey indicated, but airlines could also see big boosts in bookings with airfares projected to decrease by 10 percent this Thanksgiving. Los Angeles International Airport, for instance, is expecting a record 2.1 million passengers from Nov. 20-30, and Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports handled 1.9 million passengers last Thanksgiving weekend. This year O'Hare officials said they're expecting a 6 percent increase from Nov. 24 through Dec. 1.
But some travelers are worried the sheer volume of people moving through the country’s various transportation hubs this season could be cause for alarm, especially after the Islamic State group released a video Monday vowing to target Washington. The group has claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on cafes, restaurants, a theater and a stadium that killed 129 and left hundreds wounded in Paris last week, prompting a slew of security crackdowns across France and other parts of Europe. After a seven-hour raid Wednesday morning in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, seven suspected attackers were arrested and the alleged mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud and a female suicide bomber were killed.
But despite reassurance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that there have been “no specific or credible threats of an attack” from ISIS, 23-year-old Stephen Sharer said he doesn’t see a good reason to drop his guard. “I feel like they always just say that just to calm people down,” he said. “My biggest fear is I guess the unknown -- they came into a concert in Paris. I don't know, is someone going to be on my bus with a bomb?”
Sharer planned to travel from New York to Washington for Thanksgiving, and said he wasn’t sure whether he he would feel safer on a train or bus. He hasn’t booked tickets yet because he’s trying to decide when transportation will be at its least crowded, at its lowest risk of being targeted by terrorists.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey confirmed it will be on “heightened alert” at all of the agency’s bridge, tunnel and rail facilities -- as well as at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports and the World Trade Center -- due to the Paris attacks. Travelers should “remain vigilant,” and can expect to see increased police presence, and more checks of bags, buses, trucks and trains, the Port Authority said in a statement.
— AAA (@AAASafety) November 17, 2015
Amtrak railway service will also take extra precautions, deploying extra K9 units, uniformed personnel and long guns. As far as train delays resulting from security checks or other long line-ups, Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said it’s too early to tell what the volume of passengers will be, and therefore what the delays could be.
“Thanksgiving week is the busiest travel period of the year for Amtrak,” Leeds said in a statement. “We can’t predict exactly what our ridership will be this year, but I can tell you last year we were up 2.5 percent over the previous year [and the most ever for the holiday].”
News of Amtrak’s heightened security was reassuring to Sharer, who said he is strongly considering taking the service next week. “I remember when there was heightened security one time and it didn't really slow the trains down at all,” he said. “If anything, it made me feel safer.”