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Summer travel seen busy despite high gas prices

New surveys show many Americans are uncertain about the discomfort and affordability of vacationing this summer.  But that's not keeping them from going.  NBC's Robert Hager reports the forecast is for near record — or maybe record — travel.

Melissa and Jim Chapko and their kids dread the hassle of flying for vacation.  According to Jim, “It’s a major ordeal just to get yourself, your kids through the airport. A lot of time you’re taking off your belt, your shoes, your socks.”

Instead, they’ll drive seven hours from their home in St. Charles, Ill., and power up their power boat. But then there’s gas to worry about. Melissa said, “We just have to take a guess on how much more it’s going to cost us, and if it’s going to be justified to go for all the extra money.”

Surveys show many Americans are uncertain about the discomfort and affordability of vacationing this summer. But that’s not keeping them from going. The forecast is for near record, maybe even record travel.

Airlines are expecting to fly about 200 million passengers over the next three months — close to the all-time summer high.

Chicago’s O’Hare airport is already fighting delays. Washington-Dulles may be jammed soon, by the June startup of Independence Air, a new airline expected to add 250,000 passengers a month to traffic at that airport by the end of the summer. Atlanta has had waits in security lines for more than an hour and a half on three different days this spring.

If it doesn’t get better, warns U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., “we’re going to have gridlock at certain airports which, like a domino, is going to go all around the entire flying network, and then you have a meltdown.”

One problem: Just as airline travel has increased, Congress has cut back on the number of screeners to save money.

As for highways, economists predict they’ll be crowded, too, despite high gas prices.

And resorts will also be packed. Attendance at Disney World is up 20 percent going into summer.

But there is some good news: The American Automobile Association predicts that for a family of four, modest meals on the road could average about $110 a day this summer, 2 percent less than last year. And motels could average $125 a night, 6 percent less than 2003.

The season begins with Memorial Day weekend, less than two weeks away. America could see a runway and road race, which some affectionately worry can at times be a rat race too.