Skies mostly friendly for holiday air travelers

Wesley Bracewell, 7, (right) waits with mother Camille Bracewell and sister Mackayla Bracewell, 4, (left) with anticipation as his grandmother Diane Reaves and uncle Damon Reaves (not seen) arrive at Charleston International airport from Cleveland, Ohio

Wesley Bracewell, 7, wore reindeer antlers from Walgreens. Like his sister, Mackayla, 4, he could hardly sit still. They scurried about under the watchful eye of their mother, Camille, while waiting for their grandmother to arrive from Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

"Stand to the side! No! Both of you stand on the same side!" The kids tried their best to wait calmly like mom said, but it was almost too much to handle when the blue and silver U.S. Airways flight rolled in view, engines whining as it came to a stop. Wesley and Mackayla peered intently at the people strolling toward them.

"I see Weezy!" the little girl shouted.

Sure enough, there was grandma, but wait, who's that with her? It's Uncle Damon, too! All the way from his graduate art studies at the University of Pennsylvania! Weezy and Damon Reaves, sporting dreadlocks and a wide grin, had big hugs for the Summerville kids.

Beforehand, Camille Bracewell said Uncle Damon usually makes it down South for Wesley's birthday on Dec. 16, but this year he couldn't. "He's their surprise," she whispered shortly before the kids saw him.

Weezy, also known as Diane Reaves, takes her nickname from Louise "Weezy" Jefferson, a character on "The Jeffersons" sit-com. She said her plane was delayed out of Cleveland while the wings were de-iced. Because of the late departure, she and Damon had to hustle through the sprawling Charlotte airport to make their connecting flight to Charleston International Airport. "We literally had to run," she said.

Earlier, Linda Abram of Charleston saw her daughter Nancy Holst arrive 45 minutes late from Philadelphia. Her grandson, traveling from Boston, was grounded on a flight delayed in Newark, N.J. "I'm batting 50/50," she said.

Flying out of here is a breeze compared to Boston and Atlanta, where check-in can take up to three hours, said Margarita Schmid. "This is the best airport in the country. It's quiet. It's easy to park," she said. With two young sons in tow, she and her husband were off to Boston to visit relatives. "You just have to come prepared. It's always hectic this time of year," she said.

Air traffic on Friday was a little busier than at Thanksgiving, said Bill New, deputy director of airport operations. "It's probably one of the busier days during the year," he said. The airport averages 62 departures and arrivals daily, he said. Weather in the Northeast and Midwest was causing significant delays Friday, he said, but flights out of Atlanta and Charlotte were running pretty much on time.

Passenger traffic at Charleston International Airport is on pace to finish this year 22 percent ahead of its 2006 level. In the first 11 months of the year, 1,054,732 people got on and off planes at the Holy City terminal compared with 869,047 in the year-earlier period. Most of that growth can be traced to AirTran, which landed here in late May.

About 47 million people will fly on a U.S. airline between Dec. 13 and Jan. 2, according to the Air Transport Association. The trade group expects Jan. 2 to be the busiest day for air travel followed by Dec. 27 and Dec. 26. Christmas Day, followed by Christmas Eve, will be the most peaceful travel times, according to forecasts.