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Mostly smooth sailing for holiday travelers

Many Christmas Eve travelers around the country got what they wished for: few airport delays and highways that were mostly clear, despite a deadly snowstorm in the Midwest.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Many Christmas Eve travelers around the country got what they wished for: few airport delays and highways that were mostly clear, despite a deadly weekend snowstorm in the Plains and the Midwest.

Even the usually congested airports in the New York area — Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark-Liberty — all reported departure delays of less than 15 minutes by Monday afternoon, with outbound flights taking off on time.

"The weather is pretty clear and there are no significant issues," said Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three airports.

East Coast rail travel appeared to be running smoothly, too. New York's usually frenetic Pennsylvania Station seemed sedate on Monday, with people ambling to their trains.

"Everything was great — so far. We still have one more leg of the journey," said Sandra Patti, who was headed from New Jersey to Long Island to see family on Christmas.

Travelers flocking to the Little Rock airport also had smooth sailing by afternoon. About 118,000 people were expected to pass through the airport during the Dec. 17-Jan. 7 holiday travel period, an increase of some 7,000 over the same time last year, said airport spokesman Philip Launius.

"We were a little concerned about this year because the economy has not been good," Launius said.

No Christmas cheer for MAXjet passengers
Economics did strand some travelers Monday. MAXjet Airways abruptly ceased operations between New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and London as the all-business class airline said it would file for bankruptcy protection. The five-plane airline reserved hotel rooms for stranded passengers and worked to find other flights for them.

Elsewhere, no early major delays were reported at the Los Angeles airport or Chicago's O'Hare.

Lines at security also were relatively short, said Los Angeles International spokesman Albert Rodriguez. "People have gotten good about knowing what to pack and what not to pack, and just packing smart," he said.

There were backups at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, but they were caused by people driving around the terminals waiting to pick up arriving travelers. Cars were backed up as much as a half-mile, said spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher.

Weather clears, but caution remains
A snowstorm across the Plains and Midwest blacked out thousands of homes and businesses and snarled air travel over the weekend. The storm was blamed for at least 19 deaths.

The storm was gone Monday and conditions quickly improved, but authorities urged Christmas Eve motorists to be cautious in northern areas.

"The roads aren't quite as ice-covered, but we're still telling people not to drive unless they have to," said Sgt. Tim Elve of the Dane County, Wis., sheriff's office. "The interstate is still slick and the rural roads are really bad."

AAA estimated 65.2 million Americans would travel 50 miles or more from home during the Christmas and New Year's period, a slight increase over last year's 64.7 million, despite high gasoline prices and air fares.

Nationally, a gallon of regular unleaded costs $2.974 on average, according to the AAA.

Air travelers in western Michigan ran into problems Monday because of an overnight power failure at Gerald R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids. Service was not restored until late morning.

Backup generators powered the control tower, but there was no heat in the terminal. The outage was blamed on an equipment failure, not the storm.