NEW YORK • Airports in the United States have trotted out friendly companion dogs to calm jittery travellers and offered perks including free parking as throngs of people rush towards their Thanksgiving holiday celebrations this weekend.
Up to 2.8 million people per day, about 600,000 more than average, are expected to fly in the US over the coming six days, making it a busy period for travel, according to trade group Airlines for America.
A prevalence of cheap flights is a factor. Airfares fell almost 6 per cent through the first nine months of the year from the same period a year earlier, estimates Airlines for America.
Airports will not be the only crowded places as some 48.7 million people, the most since 2007, are expected to travel 80km or farther for the holiday, according to motor club AAA.
It said the 1.9 per cent increase from last year's level reflected an improving economy and low petrol prices.
2.8m Number of people per day expected to fly in the US over the coming six days.
Early on Wednesday, some travellers reported smooth experiences. "I got there... and there was no line to get past security," said Mr Grant Grindler, 24, of his arrival at Washington Dulles International Airport for his flight to Chicago, from where he planned to drive to Wisconsin.
Ticketing at Dulles was also "a breeze", he said.
To relieve passengers' anxiety, airports in some cities, including Chicago and Memphis, Tennessee, have deployed therapy dogs to wander around terminals with their owners to help ease stress among travellers.
At Chicago's O'Hare and Midway International Airports, the dogs in service this week include a Jack Russell Terrier mix and a German Shepherd mix provided by a local charity, Canine Therapy Corps.
"Just the entertainment of a dog distracting your attention for at least a little while helps to improve your experience at the airport," said Ms Ann Davidson, the group's operations manager.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport said it was giving up to seven days of free parking to the first 1,000 cars that entered through specially marked lanes starting on Wednesday morning.
In New York, reduced parking rates were available for a limited time at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark International airports.
Airline bosses are also rolling up their sleeves and pitching in.
JetBlue boss Robin Hayes spent part of his Wednesday serving customers at check-in kiosks at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
American Airlines Group CEO Doug Parker and his family planned to serve a turkey dinner to employees at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport yesterday, a company tradition.
Some senior executives and their families are set to do the same thing at other locations, said Mr Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines.
Mr Parker's counterpart at United Continental Holdings, Mr Oscar Munoz, will pop in on workers in Los Angeles.
Weather could complicate travel in several regions.
Wind on Wednesday was contributing to average delays of more than half an hour in Newark, New Jersey, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
A winter mix of precipitation was expected to hit the Upper Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes region on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
Snow and patches of freezing rain could spread into the North-east on Wednesday night, but snow and ice accumulations would likely be light, the service said.
Amtrak said it has added extra trains and seats to accommodate rail passengers along some of its busiest lines, including along the East Coast, in southern California and the Pacific North-west.