Thanksgiving Eve won't have anything on last Friday as a jam-packed air travel day in Roanoke. It can't.
In a rare occurrence at Roanoke Regional Airport, every seat on each of 33 scheduled departures was full, a total of 1,500 passengers.
"What this says is that if you're planning on flying during the holidays, make reservations now," said Sherry Wallace, an airport spokeswoman.
That's because neither she nor the major carriers doing business in Roanoke anticipate the addition of more flights.
"It doesn't mean we won't, but we don't expect to," said Valerie Wunder, a spokeswoman for US Airways Express, whose 13 daily departures make it Roanoke's busiest airline. Although US Airways and other carriers make route-expansion decisions based on load factors, they examine the statistics monthly, so Friday's full flights won't make a big impression on airline planners.
Overall, Roanoke Regional passenger counts are up about 9 percent so far this year, Wallace said. And Wunder said US Airways is expecting this year's holiday air travel season to be "as busy or a little more so than last year."
The airport's parking capacity has been tested this year. Wallace said that the regular lots -- 220 short term and 996 long term -- were full Friday. That meant some passengers had to park in the so-called overflow lot, which has 598 spaces, and is located farther from the terminal on the other side of Aviation Drive. Wallace said the overflow lot has been more in use this year than last, but the airport hasn't recorded how often.
Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott said the carrier is "very pleased" at its Roanoke passenger traffic. "We're constantly monitoring it."
But when asked about the possibility of more Delta flights here, Elliott said most of the airline's expansion lately is to international destinations such as Cairo, Egypt, and Tel Aviv, Israel, out of Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Delta cut back on Roanoke flights in 2005 when it was in bankruptcy proceedings. It emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year.
While it may seem early in the fall for the airport's entire fleet to be sold out, there's at least one unusual contributing circumstance: It happened the day after the Virginia Tech football game against second-ranked Boston College. "A lot of people were leaving after the game," Wallace said.
There's also heavy business travel in October as some executives and salespeople, among others, try to squeeze in appointments before the holidays.
Still, that passenger traffic is far more than the roughly 800 people who depart on a typical Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a date notorious for evoking images of snaking airport lines and weary travelers.
Last year the busiest departure day at Roanoke Regional also came on a Friday -- Nov. 17, the day that students at Radford University, Hollins University and Virginia Tech all started their way home for a weeklong break.
Wallace said that while crowded planes such as those Friday are a challenge to passengers, they're a "good problem to have" for Roanoke Regional and its carriers. That's because airport officials have long been trying to recruit a discount carrier to expand capacity, and the only way to woo one is to demonstrate an underserved market.
It remains to be seen, though, whether holiday passengers can propel the airport out of its recent slump in the number of travelers.
Roanoke's airport is running strong where it counts
Thousands of passengers were frustrated Friday at MIA, suffering the after-effects from Thursday's thunderstorms.
Allegiant Air has been selling out many of its flights.