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    Traveling for holidays: start early

    By land, air or rail, holiday travelers must expect delays and be prepared for inconveniences.

    By JOUNICE L. NEALY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000


    On runways, railways and highways, Thursday will start to look a whole lot like Christmas.

    That's when all modes of transportation should be overflowing with people headed toward holiday celebrations.

    If you're flying out of Tampa International Airport, do a little math: Add on the time it will take you to get from the farthest possible parking lot to your gate, because that is likely where you may have to park.

    "We will have plenty of parking, but it may not be what you want," said Brenda Geoghagan, a spokeswoman for TIA. Many travelers will find themselves in the airport's recently opened remote long-term lot, which has shuttle service to the main terminal.

    During the Thanksgiving holidays, "I understand that we did close (the long-term) and remote economy lot for about a day. They were full," Geoghagan said. When those lots close, the only remaining option is short-term parking, which costs $12 a day compared to $6 a day for the remote lot.

    There will be at least 45,000 people moving daily through the airport between Thursday and Saturday. That does not include people dropping off and picking up passengers, and travelers whose flights were delayed earlier in the week because of bad weather in other cities.

    "There is a domino effect," Geoghagan said. "If the system gets backed up, then it's going to take time to get back on schedule. And then we're equally busy after Christmas."

    Thomas Jewsbury, operations manager at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, said that airport already has seen the increased traffic. The remote parking lot is now open, a little earlier than usual, he said.

    Across the country, almost 45-million people will pack the trunk and drive at least 100 miles to be with friends or family. The busiest time on the roads will be during the weekend.

    With Christmas and New Year's Day on Mondays, "they don't have to take days off. They'll use the weekend to travel," said Cindy Sharpe, a spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South.

    She is urging drivers, especially Floridians headed north with no snow or ice experience, to prepare for winter weather. Check car batteries, hoses and belts and carry a bag of sand, salt or cat box filler in case of icy conditions.

    Also carry a "a snow brush, an ice scraper and blanket. If they get stuck, they need to stay warm," Sharpe said.

    If you leave the driving to Greyhound, there also are travel tips: Call ahead for schedule and prices, arrive early (at least one hour) and bring snacks, radio headsets and a small pillow for comfort.

    The bus line plans to drive more than 1.5-million people to their yuletide destinations.

    Amtrak is expecting to add 1,050 more seats daily to handle the extra load.

    "Obviously, it's an extremely busy time for us," said Nancy Calvert, an Amtrak spokeswoman.

    - Staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.

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