NEW YORK -- More Americans are expected to take long trips this holiday season – and in many parts of the country it looks to be smooth sailing.
About 92 million people will travel 50 miles or more from Friday through Jan. 2, an increase of 1.4 percent more than last year, according to AAA.
The federation of motor clubs said 90 percent will travel by car. Drivers will find gasoline prices higher than last year, but well below this year's peaks. Air travel will be down about 10 percent.
When there are problems with air travel today – be it weather, mechanical issues or computer glitches – they are much worse than just a few years ago.
Airlines have trimmed the number of flights and are packing planes fuller than ever before. That means if something goes wrong, there are fewer options to rebook stranded passengers. There are just no spare seats.
When large snowstorms hit the busy Northeast last Christmas, it took airlines as long as a week to get some people home. A similar passenger nightmare occurred after Hurricane Irene struck in August.
Bad weather also can mean more cancellations than in the past. A Department of Transportation rule that went into effect in April 2010 limits planes to three hours on the tarmac. Airlines that violate it face penalties of up to $27,500 per person – that's more than $3.7 million for just one Boeing 737.
That has made them skittish about operating in bad weather, leading to 20 percent more cancellations in the typical month.
But as of Thursday evening, there was nothing to indicate any widespread weather disruptions at the beginning of the Christmas travel period.
Heavy snow did force the cancellation of more than 100 flights Thursday at Denver International Airport, one of the nation's busiest, but that tapered off by Thursday evening.
Severe thunderstorms are forecast today in the southeast part of the country, while snow falls in the mountains of New England.
Mountainous areas of New York state and New England were expected to get several inches of snow by Friday morning, and rain and thunderstorms were forecast down the coast to the Carolinas.