Businesses gear up for holiday travel

Train attendant Manny Hernandez, right, guides passengers as they board the Amtrak train at the Grand Junction station Friday.

The holiday travel rush has begun.

Unlike other holidays with a more set period of days where passenger totals are high, trains, planes and buses begin filling up in mid-December with college students leaving for winter break. When people start getting off work this week, things will really start to pick up.

Amtrak monitors ticket sales and ridership to see if it needs to add cars to trains or pack any extra supplies or employees, Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said. The company doesn’t make ridership predictions, but the fiscal year of Oct. 1, 2009, to Sept. 30, 2010, had record ridership of 28.7 million and record ticket revenue of $1.74 billion, she said. So, it wouldn’t be a leap to predict a busy holiday.

The California Zephyr, which is the only Amtrak train that stops in Grand Junction, had a 9.4 percent increase in passengers, 3.7 percent over the increase experienced by Amtrak overall this past fiscal year compared to fiscal year 2009.

“We saw increases in October and November, too,” Leeds said.

Bus ridership totals during the week before Christmas are 40 percent higher than any other week in December, according to Greyhound spokeswoman Maureen Richmond. The bus company responds to the increase by adding buses to routes when possible and assigning more employees to work in terminals when needed to keep things running smoothly.

Richmond said the holidays can be tricky when it comes to boarding because novices are more likely to try the bus for the first time, or for the first time in a while. That can mean more confusion over procedure, so Richmond recommends arriving at the bus terminal an hour or two before the bus is scheduled to depart.

Slower lines are also an issue during the holiday season at Grand Junction Regional Airport. Airport Manager Rex Tippetts said he doesn’t expect many additional passengers during the coming week. He expects 50 extra people a day at best. But security lines can get a little longer because infrequent fliers tend to be more confused about screening protocol.

Having fewer people than normal at the airport is more noticeable than having a few more, Tippetts said.

“The big change we see is Christmas Day itself,” he said. “(Volume is) extremely light.”

People aren’t the only things being transported this holiday season. December is FedEx’s busiest month of the year, according to spokesman Rob Boulware. The company broke a record Monday with 16 million shipments and expects to break a record for the entire week with a projected 63.1 million shipments.

“It’s a high-volume period, and because of that we do have a year-round focus on preparing for the holiday shipping season,” Boulware said.

That season has gotten a little longer. With the proliferation of gift cards as presents, shipping doesn’t usually die back down to normal levels until a week after Christmas as people order items online with their gift cards. Boulware said the company doesn’t mind the extra busyness.

“It’s a neat opportunity because when you have a chance to see packages move across the belt, you know many will become gifts. We like to think we’re aiding Santa Claus,” he said.


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