(Reuters) - Nearly 44 million Americans are hitting the road for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, most by automobile, with some in Northeast states hard hit by Superstorm Sandy moving their feast to warmer, drier quarters.
Airports across most of the country faced few delays on Wednesday, but not Chicago, where thick fog reduced visibility forcing hundreds of flight delays at the city's two airports and the cancellation of more than 130 flights in the morning.
At early afternoon Chicago time, passengers flying in and out of O'Hare International Airport faced delays of about 40 minutes. Flights out of Midway had delays of about 45 minutes, according to FlightAware.com, an aviation information company.
In Canada, flights in and out of Winnipeg International were subject to delays of about 25 minutes, FlightAware said.
The "very dense fog" was expected to gradually ease in Chicago, while rain, wind and mountain snow were expected to impede travel in the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
The weather service said the eastern third of the United States was expected to stay dry and pleasant for the holiday.
AAA expects 43.6 million people to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday, up about 0.7 percent from last year - and a fourth consecutive year of growth since the severe 2008 economic downturn cut travel on the holiday by 25 percent.
"We are on a slow climb back," AAA New York spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. said on Wednesday in a telephone interview. "It's a climb, but it is a slow one, and perhaps not enough for people to really make a significant commitment to travel."
VIA Rail Canada is helping Amtrak meet the holiday crush of passengers after Sandy, which flooded several railroad equipment yards in New York and New Jersey. The storm hit New Jersey Transit particularly hard, damaging one-third of its locomotives and a quarter of its passenger cars.
SMALL DECLINE IN AIR TRAVEL
VIA Rail Canada is loaning Amtrak equipment on Wednesday - the U.S. passenger railroad's busiest day of the year with an expected 140,000 passengers, said Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Amtrak's second busiest day of the year, NJ Transit trains are expected to be in place to handle some of the spillover traffic for Amtrak, Kulm said.
AAA believes concessions to the economy can be seen in a 10 percent reduction in median spending to $498 per traveler and a drop in the distance traveled due in part to a projected decrease in air travel, Sinclair said.
About 90 percent of travelers, 39.1 million, are expected to go by automobile, while air travel is expected to decrease by about 100,000 to 3.14 million travelers, AAA said. About 1.3 million people are expected to travel by all other modes, including rail, bus and cruise ship, it said.
No cancellations or major delays were reported early Wednesday morning at Los Angeles International Airport, the nation's second busiest behind O'Hare in passenger volume.
"Everything is going more or less normally," airport spokesman Marshall Lowe told Reuters, adding that motor traffic around the sprawling facility was flowing at posted speed limits, without serious jams.
However, travelers venturing to LAX by car between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. were advised to give themselves an extra 90 minutes due to heavy congestion expected as a result of a protest planned by hundreds of union airport workers along one of the main roads leading to the airport.
Nearly 1.8 million passengers were expected to pass through LAX in the holiday travel period from Wednesdays through November 26, a slight increase over last year.
In Chicago, nearly 1.8 million passengers were expected to pass through O'Hare and Midway airports from Tuesday to Tuesday of next week, the city aviation department said.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, David Bailey, Steve Gorman and James B. Kelleher; Editing by Todd Eastham)
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