Northwest Pledges Smooth Sailing for Holiday Travel Period

With predictions that today is expected to be the busiest Good Friday rush ever at Detroit Metro Airport, Northwest Airlines is reassuring travelers that staffing will be sufficient to handle the crowds and avoid any repeat of massive backups experienced during a winter break weekend last month.

"Our staffing varies depending on volume, and we will be adequately staffed," airline spokesman Thomas Becher said Thursday.

Today was expected to be the busiest travel day of the Easter weekend, with AAA Michigan estimating a 13-percent increase in the number of Michigan residents flying this year. AAA predicts nearly half of the estimated 800,000 Michigan residents who will travel for the Easter holiday will fly to their destinations.

Northwest, Metro's largest carrier, hopes to prevent another baggage meltdown like the one that occurred during a particularly heavy winter break travel weekend Feb. 11-13.

That weekend, long waits at check-in counters and thousands of mishandled bags inconvenienced and angered passengers, many of whom had to take their vacations without luggage and wait days for their baggage to reach them.

Becher said the airline has worked out details with the Transportation Security Administration to ensure smooth operations through the Easter holiday week that ends April 3. He declined, however, to release specific staffing levels.

More than 100,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport today and on Monday, those being the biggest two travel days, airport spokesman Michael Conway said. The least busy time to travel likely will be Sunday morning.

About 95 school systems in the five-county metro region are on break through next week, adding to the numbers of families traveling.

Nancy Cain of AAA Michigan said air travel is higher this year because of lower airfares and the cold weather.

"We've had a really long winter, and where most of these folks are going, it's warmer. Plus, if you only have a few days to travel, you are less likely to drive back and forth," she said.

Heavy airport traffic Thursday indicated some families left town early, perhaps to avoid the rush.

To ease Metro Airport travel, all parking is open, including the Green Lot. To check airport lots, travelers can call the airport parking hotline at 800-642-1978.

As is always the case during holiday periods, travelers are being asked to arrive early for flights and print out boarding passes at home, if possible. Leave prohibited items such as pocketknives out of carry-on luggage and do not park curbside at the terminals.

In addition, Northwest passengers checking in should search for open computerized kiosks rather than bunch up at one or two, Becher said.

If flights are overbooked, passengers may receive a phone call asking them ahead of time whether they would voluntarily change their travel plans. If this happens to you, don't panic -- fewer than 1 percent of Northwest passengers were involuntarily bumped off flights between October and December.

Northwest and other airlines say they have to overbook flights to compensate for travelers who cancel at the last minute or never show up for departure. Airlines typically find volunteers willing to change travel plans on overbooked flights at the terminal gates before the plane departs.

According to AAA Michigan, travelers' top five flying destinations this spring are Orlando, Chicago, Tampa, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The top driving destinations are Orlando, Atlanta, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Nashville, Tenn., and Indianapolis.

Weather should not be a factor in flying to airports in Florida, where many Michiganders are headed.

The forecast for Detroit this weekend is for temperatures in the 40s with clouds and sun. Orlando is expected to be sunny with temperatures in the 80s.

For information, see www.metroairport.com. Northwest also offers travel tips at www.nwa.com/features/holidaytravel.html.

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