Nightly News   |  November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving travel rush kicks off for millions

Millions of Americans are expected to hit the airways, roadways and rails this holiday, even as the cost of travelling is sky high. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

GUTHRIE: Good evening, everyone. I'm Savannah Guthrie , in tonight for Brian .

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, anchor: It is the eve of Thanksgiving and they're off. Millions of Americans , 42.5 million to be exact, are expected to hit the airways, roadways and rails this holiday. That is the most Americans traveling for Thanksgiving since the height of the recession, and it comes even as the cost of traveling is sky high . Airfares up 20 percent. The average price of a gallon of gas up 20 percent, too. And then there is the weather. Some big storms could add up to big hassles as Americans head home this weekend. And we've got it all covered, beginning with NBC 's Tom Costello from Washington's Reagan National Airport tonight. Tom , good evening to you.

TOM COSTELLO reporting: Hi , Savannah , and good evening. You know, we've had some snow up in Vermont and in Maine , but beyond that, most of the nation's airports reporting really minimal delays today. Take a look at flightaware.com, a live look at every single airplane in the sky over American at this hour. What's fascinating here is this is one of the busiest travel days of the year, and despite that, really a pretty good travel day. Although we did start out in the soup up in the Northeast . From I-76 in Philadelphia to the Massachusetts Turnpike , the nation's Thanksgiving getaway hit an early snag in the Northeast . NBC 's Mike Taibbi started his day on New York 's Grand Central Parkway .

MIKE TAIBBI reporting: And you can see the traffic is already building up here. The rain has been coming down in sheets. There have been some flooding in some spots.

COSTELLO: But as the rain moved out, it was mostly smooth sailing on the interstate by midday. Same story in Dallas and Indianapolis . And better than expected conditions out West , although an accident on the 101 near San Francisco Airport may have caused a few travelers to miss their flights.

Offscreen Voice: New York metros have some gusty winds.

COSTELLO: In Pittsburgh , at the US Airways command center, weather is the constant challenge.

Unidentified Woman: OK. We just got advised that runway one has opened up.

COSTELLO: Here they watch every airport, plane, pilot and crew in real time. Thirty-two hundred flights a day, 650 planes, 200,000 passengers, and over the Thanksgiving travel rush, nearly a million passengers. Across all airlines, some 3.4 million leisure travelers will be in the skies. So far this year, eight of the 10 most delayed airports are on the East Coast , with Newark the worst.

COSTELLO: US Airways says its determined not to be slapped with a steep fine for keeping passengers on a runway for hours on end as other airlines have.

Mr. BOB MALONEY (US Airways): At two hours, I have to ensure that the flights have a definitive plan to get back to the gate, either take off or get to the gate.

COSTELLO: On the ramp in Charlotte , they've been waiting for this week.

Unidentified Man #1: Kicks up the holiday time. It starts kicking in now through Thanksgiving .

COSTELLO: A delay anywhere in the system can ripple across any airline in a matter of hours.

Unidentified Man #2: We are six minutes away from departure. We should be closing the flight out soon.

COSTELLO: And with all airlines flying full, if you miss a flight, it could be days until you're rebooked. Back live. I want to show you a pretty cool app for the iPad . This is called Flight Board . It shows you any city, any airport in the country. This is LaGuardia departures. And you can see, they've got departure delays tonight one to two to three hours. The same story as you scroll up, by the way, same story is in Philadelphia and Boston and JFK . Really up and down the East Coast . Also in San Francisco . So a pretty good app if you want to keep track of what's going. And also flyfaa.gov reports they've got minimal delays in the country, but the Northeast and San Francisco are the problem areas. Savannah , back to you.

GUTHRIE: All right. NBC 's Tom Costello in Washington for us. Tom ,