Travelers Jam Airports for Holiday Getaway

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Travelers jammed airports and highways Wednesday, trying to get a jump on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend while the region's first winter storm challenged drivers in the Midwest.

The National Weather Service predicted up to a half foot of snow Wednesday in a band roughly from Jefferson City and Columbia, Mo., up through the Quincy, Ill., area.

Tuesday night's rain turned to heavy snow in Kansas, coating highways and bringing down power lines in parts of the Kansas City area.

The snow was expected to move into Illinois, bringing a couple of inches to the Chicago area.

Rain and snow had been falling across other parts of the Midwest and in the South, while scattered showers and thunderstorms were forecast for the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic and the Southeast.

Motorists coasted through Pennsylvania Turnpike toll plazas for free on Wednesday morning after roughly 1,300 unionized toll collectors and maintenance workers went on strike hours before the holiday rush.

No significant traffic tie-ups were reported, and some areas that normally experience delays at rush hour appeared to be moving more quickly because drivers did not have to stop for tolls, turnpike authorities said.

It was smooth sailing at Boston's Logan Airport, as well. A spokesman said travelers appeared to be heeding the advice to arrive early for their flights.

Officials at airports nationwide urged them to budget extra time for new and more thorough security searches. Once there, passengers were told to strip off the heavy coats and winter gear to X-ray separately.

Denver International Airport expected nearly 900,000 passengers to pass through this week, a holiday record. The airport has deployed musicians and dancers of various world styles to entertain waiting passengers.

Thousands of travelers at Washington's Reagan National Airport were already in line at ticket counters and security checkpoints by 6 a.m. EST. Most were taking the wait in stride, but some said they were surprised to see that the lines snaked two-thirds of the way down the main concourse in both directions.

Meanwhile, Amtrak was moving to alleviate crowding as 80 percent more passengers were expected than on a usual Wednesday. It was adding 60 trains on the Northeast corridor for the holiday weekend and was boosting capacity of regularly scheduled trains