Holiday rush well underway at RSW

Flights out of Southwest Florida International Airport. Michel Fortier/Staff

Photo by MICHEL FORTIER // Buy this photo

Flights out of Southwest Florida International Airport. Michel Fortier/Staff

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As Naples resident Barbara Burkett prepared to leave for Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Wednesday morning, she felt calm.

"We travel a lot, so we're used to it," she said of the crowds. "But it is always fun to see everyone going to see their relatives."

Southwest Florida International Airport was bustling Wednesday as travelers arrived at and departed from the airport to be with loved ones over the Thanksgiving holiday, the busiest day for travel before the holiday.

Airlines for America, the industry trade organization for U.S. airlines, is estimating 24 million people will fly during the Thanksgiving holiday season. Of those, 2.3 million people will travel on Wednesday, the organization forecasts.

Victoria Moreland, an airport spokeswoman, said the airport has seen the addition of 60 to 70 more flights since the 150 per day this fall, and expects there to be about 230 flights per day this holiday weekend.

"This is the kickoff to our busy season," she said. "We're working our way up to 280-290 flights a day at the height of the season."

Moreland said the airport adds extra cleaning staff and extra staff to run more shuttles from the long term parking lot during the holiday weekend, but she said the real extra staffing comes from the airlines themselves.

Delta Air Lines spokesman Michael Thomas said while staffing levels have been increased at several locations around the country, including Delta's hub in Atlanta, Southwest Florida International Airport is benefitting from employees willing to work extra hours for overtime.

"Customers will definitely see additional folks helping with the holiday rush," he said, adding it included personnel like front line agents, who work the ticket counter, and ramp service workers, who deal with things like parking the airplanes.

Gail Linn, from Brooklyn, N.Y., said her flight from New York Wednesday morning was uneventful. She was even lucky enough to have an open seat next to her on her flight.

"That's why you leave early, so you have no problems," said Linn, whose plane landed about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. "But there's good weather up and down the East Coast."

Linn, who came to Southwest Florida to visit her family for the holiday, said she waited to travel until Wednesday because she works.

"I took today off," she said.

Moreland said while Wednesday will be busy, Sunday will be the airport's busiest of the holiday weekend as travelers come back to Southwest Florida or leave to go back home. She urged passengers to check with their carriers for possible delays with their flights.

Moreland also said travelers are encouraged to arrive at the airport at least two hours before their flight and to get through security as soon as possible.

"We have places to get food and beverages once you get through security. They can relax in the concourse. We have lots of seating, plenty of Wi-Fi," she said.

Moreland also urged travelers to check with the Transportation Security Administration's website for policies on what they can travel with.

"The pie can go, but the cranberries cannot," she said.

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