Thankfully, Holiday Travel Not Bad

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The post-holiday travel rush in Orange County, despite images of unbearable traffic jams and flight delays, failed to live up to expectations Sunday, and transportation officials couldn't have been more thankful.

"It's been incredibly quiet for a holiday," one California Highway Patrol dispatcher said late Sunday. "We expected a lot of headaches, but it hasn't happened. People must still be finishing up their turkey."

At John Wayne Airport, officials were winding down what was expected to be one of the busiest periods in airport history, with thousands more passengers than the usual 12,500 daily fliers testing the limits of the airport already slowed by construction.

The construction, part of the airport's $310-million expansion, made for some tricky moments on airport roads and parking lots, but major airport jams apparently never materialized Sunday, as travelers said they moved fairly quickly to and fro.

"It's really just a normal holiday," said Ray McCarthy, who was coordinating airport operations Sunday. "There's a lot of traffic, but most everything's been running on time and is going really smoothly, even though we've got so many people here."

At USAir, for example, outgoing flights on Sunday were only about 66% full--far less than what the airline sees for some near-capacity weekend and summer flights, according to shift supervisor Mike Tacconi, who said he was over-staffed for the day.

"It's nowhere near the kind of traffic we expected, and there haven't been any real delays," Tacconi said.

Judy Boyd, an airline baggage agent, noticed the difference, too.

"The weather was terrible last (Thanksgiving) and we had a lot of delays, so things have been a lot smoother today. It makes our job easier. People are a lot more up this year."

And traveler Herb Livesey, an Orange Coast College professor and a pro basketball scout who was returning from Phoenix on Sunday, said inconveniences posed by airport construction are outweighed by the prospect of a new, expanded site to handle the area's burgeoning demands.

"All things considered, I think they're doing a great job. Travel hasn't been really bad at all," he said.

For bus and train travelers, as well, the day commute seemed to go smoothly.

However, Irma Perales, on-duty manager for the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center, said some trips were running about 20 minutes behind on Sunday because of a near-tripling of terminal passengers--to an estimated 900 for the day.

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