Image: Holiday Travel Expected To Increase From Last Year
Spencer Platt  /  Getty Images
People wait in line at a security checkpoint at John F. Kennedy Airport on Thursday in New York City.
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updated 12/23/2010 9:16:47 PM ET 2010-12-24T02:16:47

Fair weather helped make the holiday sojourn a not-so-painful experience in much of the country Thursday, even with more people hitting the roads and skies than last year, but travelers' good luck might be running out.

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A storm was expected to bring snow and ice to parts of the heartland Friday, a rare white Christmas to Nashville on Saturday, and perhaps sock swaths of the Northeast on Sunday.

"People that are going to Grandma's house," said Bobby Boyd, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Nashville, "need to get going."

Eric and Tatiana Chodkowski, of Boston, were driving Thursday with their kids, ages 2 and 4, to see relatives in New York. They said forecasts for snow on Sunday made them wonder whether they'd make it back then, as planned.

They deemed the roads congested but manageable Thursday, and most people found the nation's airports to be the same way.

Planes took off into windy but accommodating skies at New York's LaGuardia Airport as Steve Kent prepared to fly to Denver for a family ski trip, scoffing at the puny lines.

"I don't find it that difficult," he said. "I think Thanksgiving is harder."

Interactive: Top travel stories of 2010 (on this page)

TSA alerts on thermoses
The U.S. Homeland Security Department has alerted air carriers to a potential terror tactic involving insulated beverage containers like thermoses.

The alert stressed that there is no intelligence about an active terror plot, but travelers may notice airport screeners taking a closer look at empty insulated containers.

The Transportation Security Administration "is carefully monitoring information related to terrorist tactics" in coordination with other nations, TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne said in a statement Thursday. "The possible tactics terrorists might use include the concealment of explosives inside insulated beverage containers, so in the coming days, passengers flying within and to the U.S. may notice additional security measures related to insulated beverage containers."

Payne urged the public "to remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity to their local authorities."

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Homeland Security regularly alerts law enforcement about evolving terror tactics as counterterror officials learn about them through intelligence chatter.

Travel spread out
The spread-out nature of the year-end holidays means things won't be quite so cramped as holidays, like Thanksgiving, when practically everyone is on the move the same day.

"We have a lot of folks who already may have taken off of work," said Troy Green, a spokesman for AAA. "They may have arrived at their destination before today."

Mike Lukosavich, of Harrison Township, Mich., was surprised the first leg of his trip was moving so smoothly when he stopped at rest area on the Ohio Turnpike in Elmore, Ohio, near Toledo.

He, his wife and their 8-month-old daughter were heading to see family in Parkersburg, W.Va. His only headache came when he saw the gas price of about $3 a gallon.

"It's something you have to do to see the family," said Lukosavich, 33.

Weather.com: Get the latest Christmas forecasts

The AAA has expected overall travel to rise about 3 percent this year, with more than 92 million people planning to go more than 50 miles sometime between now and Jan. 2. More than 90 percent said they would be driving.

Maria Romero, a cashier at the Chevron Food Mart just off Interstate 15 in Barstow, Calif., said she has seen an increase in travelers there, especially families and people from out of state.

"It's wonderful. We need it," she said. "The busier, the better."

The Air Transport Association expects 44.3 million people on U.S. flights between Dec. 16 and Jan. 5 — up 3 percent over the same period a year ago but still below pre-recession travel volume. The average ticket price is $421, up by 5 percent.

The Vino Volo Wine Room at Detroit Metropolitan Airport is benefiting from more travelers, manager Mark Del Duco said Thursday.

Slideshow: Snow Cold (on this page)

"The Christmas mood is more there this year than last," he said, estimating that sales are up this 10 percent this season compared with last year as financially confident travelers spend more freely.

Some travelers weren't thrilled about their mode of transportation. Anthony Lauro joined nearly 100 people lined up Thursday morning for a Montreal-bound coach at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's bus terminal in midtown Manhattan. He faced an eight-hour ride to see his fiancee there.

"Flying to Canada is astronomically overpriced," he said.

Helping matters is that the most densely populated parts of the country got a break from the weather Thursday with rain finally stopping in California and a few days away in the East.

But the coming storm was a concern Thursday in parts of the nation's midsection.

Steve Brown, 50, of Elm Creek, Neb., left Tuesday afternoon and drove all night to beat the storm as it worked its way east. Brown, a grain hauler, was taking his two children to see his mother on the Ohio dairy farm where he grew up.

"I had orders to come home or she was going to come get me," Brown said during at the Elmore rest area, where adults filled up on coffee while kids, traveling in pajamas, loaded up on Tater Tots.

After record-breaking snow falls in the East and a treacherous Christmas travel season last year, the ways weather can mess up travel seem to be on plenty of minds.

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At LaGuardia, Mike and Martha Lee Mellis waited to fly to Aspen, Colo., with their three young sons. They dreaded a repeat of last winter's ski trip, when a snowstorm hit while they were transferring in Chicago on their way home.

"We had to return via Philadelphia, and I had to rent a car and drive everybody home at 11 at night," Mike Mellis recalled.

His wife had been trying to forget, saying, "I've blocked it all out."

Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield, N.J. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David Goodman in Detroit; Samantha Bomkamp in Washington; Lucas L. Johnson II in Nashville; Verena Dobnik in New York City; Michelle Price in Phoenix; and John Seewer in Elmore.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Timeline: Top travel stories of 2010

From a volcano that disrupted air travel across Europe to Steve Slater's infamous exit on a JetBlue emergency chute, here's a look at the top travel stories of the year.

Photos: Snow Cold

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