Heading into the Christmas travel season, the number of people traveling in Arkansas and nationwide will begin increasing this week. Clinton National Airport and the Arkansas State Police are preparing for busy air traffic and roadways.
Cathy Dicus, who works at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said she and her husband are planning to fly from Little Rock to Los Angeles to visit her two sons over the holiday season. That will be their Christmas present to their children. One of her sons lives in New York and will be flying to meet them at Los Angeles International Airport.
Although gas prices are down, Dicus said her family still prefers air travel.
"We fly, and of course around Christmastime, airfares are not going to go down at any rate. So we go ahead and book early once we know we are going to go because they have a tendency to go up rather than go down," Dicus said.
Clinton National Airport Spokesman Shane Carter said the volume of passengers so far this year at the airport is down nearly five percent compared to airports elsewhere in the nation. He also said what happens at the Little Rock airport is a direct reflection on the local economy.
"As we go through this holiday, it will be very interesting to see... if we mirror those national trends which show on average travel should be up," Carter said. Most air travelers will be arriving in the early morning hours and the airport has increased staffing to accommodate them, he said.
Dicus said one challenge for air travelers like her is, "The airline won’t let you wrap the presents. They’ll unwrap the presents for security reasons, but we solved that problem ourselves since our trip is our present. We don’t have a lot of presents to carry with us."
Lower gas prices are an incentive for more people to drive this year. In Arkansas, prices have dropped to $2.36 per gallon, as of Tuesday, according to www.arkansasgasprices.com. That's about a 50 percent decrease compared to prices at the pump this time last year.
Arkansas State Police Cpl. Chuck Lewis said they are expecting heavy traffic during the holidays.
"We have so many more people on the roadways during the start of the holiday. From now through January we will have many, many families traveling across Arkansas and across the United States,” Lewis said.
He warns there are many construction sites along Interstate 40, which is the most heavily traveled highway in Arkansas. Lewis concluded that families should give a "little extra room" on the roads this travel season.
Rail travel is also expected to be busy this year. Amtrak reports ridership is at all-time record levels. The rail service runs one train, the Texas Eagle, through Arkansas each day in each direction.