With the Thanksgiving holiday weekend getting under way, more travelers than last year are expected to take to the roads, rails and runways on what is traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year, according to industry experts.
AAA Northern California predicts the state's roadways will be heavily congested over the weekend, estimating that nearly 5 million motorists will drive more than 50 miles to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said.
That would be a slight increase of just over half a percent in state automobile traffic compared to 2011, she said.
She said it is estimated that 45 percent of those travelers will hit the road Wednesday.
"It's always the day before a major holiday that's the busiest for travelers," Harris said. "Thanksgiving is so important because people gather with their families."
Harris said AAA has tracked a steady increase in automobile traffic during the holiday season since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, due in part to concerns about air industry security.
San Francisco International Airport is expecting to see record numbers of passengers during the 2012 holiday season -- the ninth consecutive year that SFO will have experienced growth between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, communications manager Doug Yakel said.
An estimated 1.2 million passengers will arrive at and depart from SFO during the Thanksgiving travel period, which began Nov. 16 and ends on Sunday, Yakel said.
Despite a still-struggling economy, SFO is on track this year to set a new record for passengers in a calendar year, exceeding the previous record of 41 million, Yakel said.
After a rainy start to the day Wednesday, SFO was experiencing only minor delays on regional flights this morning, a duty manager said.
Passengers are always advised to check with their individual airlines about delays, as weather in other parts of the U.S. could affect flights at SFO.
SFO passengers are also advised to avoid driving to the airport throughout the weekend, as some parking lots are expected to be full by Thanksgiving.
Travelers should allow at least 90 minutes to check in and pass through security checkpoints for domestic flights, according to the airport.
According to AAA estimates, more than 169,000 travelers are expected to board trains or boats to reach their Thanksgiving destinations -- an increase of more than 11 percent over 2011, Harris said.
Amtrak is adding more seats on its most popular routes to accommodate the influx of riders, agency spokeswoman Renee Graham said. Graham said the railway is expecting big crowds on Bay Area trains beginning later Wednesday.
"For those customers in the Bay Area, the real rush starts this afternoon," she said.
More than 500 seats are being added to Capitol Corridor service beginning today, a 32 percent increase in seating capacity for the Thanksgiving weekend, she said.
Amtrak is prepared to add additional train cars throughout the weekend if needed, Graham said. Amtrak officials recommend arriving at stations early -- at least 45 minutes before departure if tickets need to be picked up.
Current Amtrak travel information can be found online at www.amtrak.com/home. For current conditions at SFO, visit www.fly.faa.gov/flyfaa/usmap.jsp.
-- Bay City News