By JUSTIN PRITCHARD
LOS ANGELES — An expanded version of America’s annual Thanksgiving travel saga was under way Wednesday with gas prices low and terrorism fears high.
An estimated 46.9 million Americans are expected to take a car, plane, bus or train at least 50 miles from home over the long holiday weekend, according to the motoring organization AAA. That would be an increase of more than 300,000 people over last year, and the most travelers since 2007.
Among the reasons given for the increase: an improving economy and the cheapest gasoline for this time of year since 2008.
On Tuesday, some travelers were gearing up for an early exit.
Fanni Farago, 26, of Tempe, Arizona, sat in the Albuquerque airport with her sister Flora Farago, 30, while waiting for their parents to arrive from Dallas. The family was planning on driving to the mountain resort of Red River, New Mexico to revive a family Thanksgiving tradition.
“My parents warned us about the travel warning so we decide to get started early,” Fanni Farago. “And since it’s so cheap to drive, we are going to rent a car to go up to Red River.”
Americans prefer auto travel because it provides more control over expense, trip distance and duration, said Susan Hiltz, AAA spokeswoman in Michigan.
“Auto travel volume tends to be evenly spread out over the five-day holiday, but airports are especially busy on Wednesday and Sunday,” she said.
Anyone trekking to a major airport should factor in 50 extra minutes on the road, according to the traffic data company INRIX — and that’s just getting to the airport, never mind getting through security.
Though there have been no changes to the nation’s terror alert status, the recent attacks in Paris, West Africa and elsewhere prompted the State Department to warn American travelers about the risks overseas.
On Tuesday, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, Peter Neffenger, boasted that the U.S. has the world’s best aviation security and assured the public that TSA is “taking every measure to protect the millions of air travelers in the coming weeks.”
At the Phoenix airport, Teri Robert said the notion of flying from Arizona to West Virginia to see family gave her pause, but in the end she decided she had to go.
“I’m not going to let the terror alerts and things stop me, because then they win,” she said.
Airfares have increased just 69 cents on average since last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies.
–Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Corey Williams in Detroit, Brian Skoloff in Phoenix and Russell Contreras in Albuquerque contributed.