Travelers hit the roads for family gatherings, feasts and fun
Gina and Van Kelley, of Tyler, got the first glimpse of their newest grandson as his parents exited a plane from Peru at the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport on Tuesday.
After a 17-hour trip, one-month-old baby Judah was sleepy and hungry, but his grandparents had huge smiles as they kissed his cheeks and held him close.
The Kelleys' daughter Amanda Wissmann, of Tyler, and her husband Shaun, of West Virginia, have been doing mission work in Peru for the past three years.
It has been a year since they've seen their family in the states.
"Thank goodness for Skype, that's how we saw him for the first time," Mrs. Kelley said.
Judah and his family were among the 3.3 million Texans traveling to see family members this year, according to AAA Texas, and the organization estimates travel numbers are up 1.6 percent since last year. State Travel
Doug Shupe, spokesman for AAA Texas, said overall travel numbers in the state are up slightly for the fourth consecutive year.
"Economists say that the slight increase is a result of people feeling more confident today than they were a year ago," Shupe said. "It also shows an economy that is holding steady."
According to AAA, driving is the preferred method to travel home, with 3 million Texans opting to drive themselves, up 1.6 percent from last year. Traveling by bus, train or other forms of travel saw the largest percentage increase, up 11 percent to 77,688.
Tyne Evans, 35, of Tyler, was preparing for her family's seven-hour drive to the Fredericksburg area on Tuesday evening by filling her minivan's tank with gasoline.
Mrs. Evans said her father, husband, and their children, ages 3, 4, 6 and 8, will be traveling together.
She said she will stay in the back with the children and their stash of snacks while her husband and father ride in the front.
Mrs. Evans said the journey will be shorter this year than in the past.
"We used to do Colorado, so this should be nothing ..." she said. "We are well seasoned travelers."
AAA estimates 206,647 Texas families are traveling home by air during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, down .07 percent from last year.
Shupe said a poll among its members suggests the numbers are lower because of an increase in airfare rates and fewer flights offered by airlines.
"Airlines are reducing flights, and bottom line it's going to be more cost-effective for a family to drive," Shupe said.
Tyler Regional Pounds Airport Manager Davis Dickson said he spoke to United and American Airlines, and flights were full, and in some cases overbooked on Wednesday.
"Really our boarding activities have been good throughout the year," Dickson said. "We are not seeing a lot of growth, but it's very stable. We had a consistently good three years, even with the economy."
But the Kelley and Wissmann families were not talking about airfare rates as they happily passed Judah from one set of loving hands to another.
"It kind of embodies Thanksgiving," Mrs. Kelley, with tears in her eyes, said of being with family. "We are very thankful and blessed."
Judah is the fifth grandchild for the Kelleys, but his parents said he is a miracle baby because the couple didn't think they could have children.
"Last year ... we went out in the jungle and we felt like God was saying this is the year, and shortly thereafter we found out we were pregnant, and we said we were going to be home for the holidays, and here we are," he said.
The road and airways will be busy through Sunday, for Thanksgiving, but the Wissmann clan is in no rush to head back to Peru.
"We are doing Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, hanging out till February and heading back," Mrs. Wissmann said, adding the couple would be traveling north to visit her husband's family as well.