CHICAGO — Feeling the pinch of the sluggish economic recovery, many Americans setting out on the nation's annual Thanksgiving migration sacrificed summer vacations, relied on relatives for airfare or scoured the Web for travel deals to ensure they made it home.
It's not just tight family finances making travel tough. Airlines struggling to save on jet fuel and other expenses have cut the number of flights, leading to a jump in airfares. Those hitting the roads face high gas prices and rising tolls. Now, with talk of the nation sliding off a "fiscal cliff" come January, many travelers said they're accepting that sacrifices for pricy holiday journeys have become the norm.
"You become immune to it, I guess," said Chris Zukowski, a 43-year-old locomotive engineer from the Chicago suburb of Huntley, as he hugged his wife and three children goodbye at Chicago's O'Hare Airport and lamented he could not afford to join them on the holiday trip to New Jersey.
"You have to cut back on things just to make sure that you can afford to do stuff like this, so they can go visit grandma," he said, referring to his son and two daughters.
Weather also upset some travel plans. Dense fog in the Chicago area contributed to the cancellation of nearly 200 flights at the city's two airports Wednesday morning, according to flightstats.com. More than 800 other flights were delayed at O'Hare and Midway.
That meant Paul Griffin, 50, had to wait a little longer to reunite with his son, Ryan, an Arizona State University freshman flying into O'Hare on a cheap ticket his father discovered after a month of sifting through deals on websites.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him," Griffin said. "I haven't seen him since August. He's a little homesick."