In keeping with modern Christmas tradition, thousands of Orange County residents hit the road or took to the skies Friday to begin their vacations, but the recession appeared to be holding down the volume of holiday travel.
At John Wayne Airport, officials reported that while the number of passengers Friday night rose from levels earlier this month, the airport was hardly jammed. If it was a holiday rush, it was a light one.
"The number of bodies in the terminal is definitely up, but it's not crowded," said William Long, an airport operations coordinator. "It's typical of your 'getaway Friday' kind of traffic. But it's more quiet than a lot of nights."
Officials speculated that the recession and the fact that Christmas falls in the middle of the work week could be holding down the "Friday getaway" crowds.
"We're getting more (passengers) than last year at this time but not significantly more, and one reason may be the recession," said airport spokeswoman Courtney Wiercioch.
Only about half of the airport's 6,000 parking spaces were full by late afternoon. Armando Marin, location manager of AMPCO Parking at the airport, said the day was "not as busy as we expected." But he noted that Christmas travel does not produce the crowds that Labor Day and Thanksgiving do.
There was no sign of a Christmas travel rush on the rails either. Esthus Addison, a ticket clerk at the Santa Ana Amtrak station, predicted heavy travel on the days just before and after Christmas but said Friday traffic was "just above average."
"It's just been a steady flow," he said. "Nothing outstanding."
Likewise, bus ridership did not jump on Friday. Orange County Transit District spokeswoman Joann Curran said there was no increase in passengers on the routes going to the airport and train stations.
But people did appear to be flocking onto the highways. It wasn't immediately clear how much of the crunch was routine Friday night slowdown and how much was due to holiday escapes, but one California Highway Patrol dispatcher said the freeways were busier than during a normal Friday night rush hour.