CHICAGO -- Travelers were piling onto trains, planes and automobiles as the annual holiday trek got under way Friday, although more people than normal were expected to opt to stay home this year.
Overall holiday travel -- between Friday and the weekend after New Years -- was expected to drop 6 percent nationwide from last year, with airlines, trains and buses taking a hit of up to 20 percent, AAA Chicago Motor Club spokeswoman Norma Cooper said.
Auto travel was expected to dip 1 percent, from 42.7 million cars last year to 42.2 million this year. Travel by air, rail and bus was expected to drop from 14.4 million last year to 11.5 million this year, she said.
The travel decline -- attributed partly to a weaker economy and people's desire to stay close to home after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- comes despite lower gasoline prices and good weather this year, experts said.
"But the good news is that it's up from Thanksgiving," said Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Monique Bond, noting that Thanksgiving is usually the busiest travel period of the year for airlines.
"We're seeing that travelers' confidence is slowly regaining after Sept. 11," she said.
Through Sunday, more than 205,000 travelers a day were expected to pass through O'Hare International Airport and more than 50,000 a day through Midway, Bond said. O'Hare's numbers were slightly lower than last year, though Midway's were virtually unchanged, she said.
Last year, subzero temperatures and snow caused the cancellation of Christmas flights and left thousands stranded at Chicago airports.
But this year, travelers should expect smooth traveling no matter how they travel, officials said.
Bond said Friday there were no airline delays or cancellations, with favorable weather conditions forecast for Chicago and other hub cities.
National Weather Service meteorologist Allan Fisher said rain would move into Illinois Saturday night, but temperatures would not get cold enough to cause freezing. Some snow flurries were expected in the beginning of the week, but nothing that should affect travel, he said.
The Illinois Department of Transportation suspended road construction projects where possible on state highways to ease traffic congestion.