Travelers Pack Patience, Time for Thanksgiving Travel Rush

Whether you plan to take to the skies, roads or rails, expect some snags along the way

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Jason Rockwood wanted to keep his walk through security light.

    Hoping to keep his trip through security at LaGuardia Airport as easy as possible, a Manhattan man figured "less is more."

    Jason Rockwood, of Hell's Kitchen, showed up for his flight to Chicago on Wednesday in just his skivvies and some shoes. He said his brief attire was a protest against the opt-out protesters who refuse full-body scans.

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    "If I'm selected for a scan and I opt out," Rockwood told NBCNewYork. "It won't hold anybody up. It will be quick. The TSA is undignified and so are my clothes. We go together." 

    As predicted, Rockwood breezed through regular metal detectors without a stitch of delay.

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    Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration said very few passengers opted out of the full body scans on Wednesday --one of the busiest travel days of the year.

    More than 40 million people plan to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the American Automobile Association, with more than 1.6 million flying -- a 3.5 percent increase from last year.

    The Port Authority expects nearly 3.6 million travelers to use its airports, bridges, tunnels, and PATH system during the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Authorities at Penn, Port Authority and Grand Central Stations are preparing for arguably the biggest crowd of luggage-wielding travelers they'll see all year. 

    Cautioning that many trains are already sold out, Amtrak encourages people to make reservations ahead of time. Local trains -- Metro-North, LIRR and NJ Transit -- all plan to run some extra trains to accommodate the rush as the day wears on.

    Those traveling by air should build in some additional time as well. During this holiday period, more than 1.32 million passengers will travel through John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty, LaGuardia and Stewart International airports - up 2.6 percent over 2009.

    And Spirit Airlines travelers were feeling the pinch at LaGuardia Airport. But it didn't have anything to do with delays feared from the new security measures. Roughly 200 people were stuck in line at about 10 a.m. due to a nationwide computer failure affecting Spirit Airlines. Manual check-ins forced passengers to wait for more than an hour, and many were worried about missing flights. A Port Authority police officer was assigned to keep tabs on the potentially volatile situation.

    However, Port Authority and TSA officials said in a news conference that security lines at LaGuardia are actually shorter today than they've been on previous Wednesdays before Thanksgivings.

    "New York travelers are saavy," said LaGuardia Airport General Manager Tom Bosco. "They used to all fly out the day or two before the holiday. Now it's spread out over a week. And we've added staff to make it smoother."

    Some outbound passengers NBCNewYork spoke with said they left extra time and wound up waiting at gates for more than two hours. Others said they kept usual schedules and haven't had issues.

    Leading up to today, there had been some concern that fliers could experience delays as those worried about privacy issues related to the hotly debated body scanners "opt out," making for longer pat-down lines. That doesn't appear to be the case at this point, at least not at LaGuardia, and the TSA's regional boss said there have been "no signs" of a protest.

    "We haven't had an unusual number of people opt-out of hte back scanner X-rays," said TSA security director Marisa Maola.

    The scanners are scheduled to be up and running at all three New York area airports on Wednesday, and while some are concerned about what screeners could see, others fear potential health effects related to radiation -- a concern that Maola dismissed, saying tests at Johns Hopkings University and elsewhere indicate "the units are safe."

    Despite the hot topic of the body scanners, plenty of travelers are more against allowing screeners to feel them up. Complaints about the pat-down option continue to grow.

    Some passengers say the screeners are too aggressive and invasive with their search.

    "We just thought the pat ... would be a nightmare because kids like him don't like to be touched often," one traveler said about their son.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists concerns about both options -- the scanners or the pat-downs -- are entirely unfounded.

    He says experts say the scanners aren't a threat for harmful radiation, and as for the pat-downs, they "may be intrusive, but do you want to be on a plane with somebody sitting next to you who may be carrying a bomb and we didn't do anything to stop it?"

    While local air traffic is up this year over last, road traffic will be heavy, too. More than 40 million people are expected to hit the roads nationwide -- nearly a million in New Jersey alone, according to AAA. Thanks to an uptick in the economy, more people have jobs and are willing to pay higher gas prices -- $2.86, $3.14 and $3.15 per gallon in Jersey, New York and Connecticut, respectively, the agency says.

    Given the expected 11 percent increase in Thanksgiving road travelers across the country, those in the tri-state area taking highways to their holiday destinations planned to leave early.

    One Long Islander en route to Pittsburgh said he hoped to leave around 4:30 a.m., get off the Long Island Expressway and through Manhattan by about 5:30 a.m. When asked by NBCNewYork about his travel, he admitted he was already running half an hour behind that schedule.