BOSTON The Thanksgiving travel weekend got off to a smooth start Wednesday thanks to clear skies across much of the country and short lines at most airport security checkpoints.
The improving economy and flat gas prices were expected to make this the busiest Thanksgiving weekend since the 2001 terrorist attacks. The AAA travel group expected 36 million people nationwide to travel 50 miles or more from their homes over the weekend.
''This is perfect weather for traveling either by air or car,'' said AAA spokesman Mantill Williams. ''Apparently, they don't anticipate any type of inclement weather throughout the weekend, so we're confident the travel is going to live up to our expectations.''
Some travelers seemed surprised by how smoothly their trips were going.
''I think a lot of us are smarter about how we have to travel now. I just check everything,'' Mary Thomas of Oxon Hill, Md., said as she waited for her bags in Atlanta after a flight from Baltimore. ''We're all getting accustomed to the security process. It makes it a lot less chaotic.''
Checkpoint wait times were shorter than last year at most airports, according to transportation officials who credited a better-educated flying public and more efficient screeners.
Wait times for early-afternoon flights Wednesday ranged from one minute in Chicago to 15 minutes in Atlanta. In Denver, travelers waited three minutes, and in Minneapolis-St. Paul, five minutes.
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Transportation Safety Administration, said the percentage of passengers who set off metal detectors and then have to be searched was running about 8 percent to 10 percent by mid-afternoon Wednesday, down from 16 percent last year.
''People are showing up early, prepared and patient,'' Turmail said.
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