TUPELO – Katherine Zhu clutched her travel bag Wednesday before boarding an Atlanta-bound flight to see her family for Thanksgiving.
She’d share the plane with Rolando Vento, a businessman from Akron, Ohio, who has been in Tupelo since September, now en route to see his wife and daughter for a long weekend back home.
Joining them was Stephanie Stergas, a Mississippi State University graduate headed to Florida where she’ll enjoy the holidays with her parents.
The travelers all left through the Tupelo Regional Airport, which also greeted dozens of people arriving from elsewhere to spend Thanksgiving in Northeast Mississippi.
The American Automobile Association predicts that 38.4 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home for the holiday, but only 6 percent of them will fly. Most – 86 percent – are driving.
The average distance traveled will be 815 miles, the group said, though more than a third will travel 250 miles or less.
Zhu, a high school senior from Red Bay, Ala., will voyage nearly 700 miles before joining her family in the Orlando area.
“We’ve got a big Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow,” said the China native who moved with her mother to the United States three years ago.
Justin Smith flew nearly 650 miles from Houston, Texas, where he attends graduate school, to visit his sister Shannon Carlisle in Saltillo.
Carlisle’s 2-year-old daughter, Caroline, hopped excitedly when Smith entered the airport from the plane. The two embraced before a nearby passenger’s dog caught Caroline’s attention.
“Puppy dog,” she squealed, dropping her embrace to visit the furry pet.
Smith said he arose at 4 a.m. to catch his flight and looked forward to a long visit with his family.
While Smith chased after his niece, Kailyn Buckley hugged her parents, who waited for the Orlando college student to arrive for the holidays.
“We’re spending Thanksgiving with my parents in Hamilton, Ala.,” said mom Ashley Buckley. “They’ve got 140 acres, so we’re having a good time.”
Tupelo residents Harold and Nancy Richburg also greeted a child, Hal, who flew in from Florida to spend the weekend.
And nearby, Teresa Ward and her sons rested in the airport lobby before going to Aberdeen where their kin live. The trio traveled from Minneapolis for the holiday.
“I think it’s warmer up there than it is here,” Ward said. “But I’m sure that will change soon.”
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal