Holiday travelers clog Arizona roads, airports

Posted at 5:26 PM, Nov 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-24 08:56:18-05
Travelers heading home for the Thanksgiving holiday jammed Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Wednesday as they rushed to join their families for a feast.
The airport was busier than usual at midday and expected to be slammed with travelers by late afternoon, with an estimated 180,000 fliers moving through the facility over the day and similar numbers expected again on the busy Saturday and Sunday travel days.  That's about 60,000 more than normal for those days.
Even though the airport is busy, a report by AAA Arizona shows more people are taking advantage of low gas prices to drive, not fly, to their destinations. An estimated 1.4 million Arizonans will be driving at least 50 miles, while nearly 400,000 will be flying.
Drivers should be aware of the usual hotspots during busy travel times, especially Interstate 17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff, I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, and Phoenix west to the California border, according to Quentin Mehr, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Mehr said drivers should prepare for breakdowns and cold weather by packing blankets, water and food, especially those traveling to the northern parts of the state. Most importantly, don't fiddle with your cellphone while driving and wear a seat belt anytime the vehicle is moving.
Mehr said a fatal accident Wednesday on I-17 could have been less severe with seatbelt use. A pickup pulling a trailer blew a tire on I-17 in north Phoenix, and the driver lost control, slamming into the freeway median. He was not wearing a seat belt and was partially ejected and fatally injured.
Mehr said the man's daughter was in the truck with him and survived minor injuries.
"There's the testament -- have your belt on," Mehr said.
At Sky Harbor, spokeswoman Heather Lissner said travelers can take some of the stress out of travel by arriving early, checking the airport website for parking options or having someone drop them off at the Sky Train station near the airport. Checking carry-ons for prohibited items is also a must, Lissner said.
The mix of travelers at Sky Harbor was a cross-section of folks heading home for the holiday or taking a holiday excursion.
Four Yuma women were headed to a clogging convention in Nashville.
Janice Jestin and her three companions make an annual trek to the convention, leaving their husbands at home to fend for themselves and watch TV. They were excited to be off, even with the holiday travel angst.
Jestin teaches the folk dance, splitting her time between Yuma in the winter and Canada in the summer.
"They always do it on Thanksgiving weekend, so it's always lots of fun to try and travel and get there," she said.
For Irene Schlarb, who flew to Phoenix from Canada, the tears were flowing, not from fear of flying but from seeing her 12-week old granddaughter, Francesca, for the first time.
"I'm more stressed emotionally," Schlarb said. "This is like our first. They're all special."