Thanksgiving travel could be tricky for some, smooth sailing for others

(WJLA) - This is what it looks like when an estimated 39 million people hit the roads. And the relentless rain didn’t help the situation, slowing down the trip for this Fairfax-bound Philadelphia resident.

"A lot of traffic because of weather, so going at a slower pace, but pushing through," said Mark Rover.

At the metro area’s busiest airport, BWI Marshall, it was surprisingly smooth sailing with conditions clear for departures.

"So far so good..." said Orlando-bound Faith Weston.

But the reason for this unexpectedly stress-free experience on Wednesday for most passengers required a complex operation – behind the scenes.

Inside the BWI nerve center, it is controlled chaos on the day before Thanksgiving. The crew monitors everything from plane deicing to runway temperatures and security lines.

Their 720 cameras cover nearly every inch of the airport, along with every one of the 14,000 people who work here.

"It's a lot of work," said BWI Operations Director, John Stewart. "But if we do our job right, the public has a seamless experience throughout the airport, which is what we want."

And on a day like this, they certainly earn their keeps.

"It's our Super Bowl," added BWI CEO, Paul Wiedefeld. "This is the time of the year we have to perform. People who don't fly all year may fly this weekend."

And all that hard work apparently paid off for many who flew out today.

"It's not too busy at all. I'm glad about that," said Indigo Beal.

Meanwhile, the huge winter storm that is strangling the entire East Coast has caused flight boards like this one at Reagan National to turn red with delays and cancellations.

"We’re delayed about an hour," said Sue Powers. She and her husband Jim are flying to Alabama to see their son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. They spent the afternoon at Reagan after driving up from Fredericksburg to catch their flight.

Nationwide, there have been 2,700 flight delays so far. The situation in the air is bad, especially in the Northeast, but better than many expected in light of the bad weather.

The roads are a different story -- travel is a nightmare.

We caught up with Samantha Robertson in Shirlington, who is making her way north on 95.

"Dale City area is where it stops, so I hopped off onto Route One and got back on by Lorton. The south is sitting all the way," she said.

It seems that perhaps the best travel alternative on Wednesday is by rail.

The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year for Amtrak. Crowds were heavy, but things for the most part were moving on time and smoothly.

Christina Wood and her friend are heading to New York for a fun holiday weekend.

"I would never fly over the holidays or the road," they said.

Later on Wednesday evening, salt trucks were on standby on 270 in Frederick. But the snow that blew through Wednesday afternoon didn’t stick along this stretch of Maryland.

Traffic was heavy in spots, but at least here the roads were clear as countless travelers headed to their Thanksgiving day destinations.

"I did get stuck with the worst weather," said Pennsylvania resident Margaret Turner.

Margaret and Glenn Turner had a rough start. Their hometown in Northeast Pennsylvania was hit hard by snow. They are en route to Fairfax, Virginia to visit their daughter.

"There was times you couldn't see very far, I'll tell you that. But not a lot of traffic, so the traffic was great.," she said.

The hardest part of their trip was getting out in the elements to pump gas.

"The wind is brutal coming out of the car," said Glenn. Strong gusts made the mid to high 30s feel like the low 20s.

"It's cold and windy," said Maryland resident Weah Wisseh. "And I'm from West Africa, Liberia. It doesn't ever get this cold, so you know what I'm going through."

The weather did manage to slow down some passengers trying to head home for quality family time.

"We've been waiting six months so we can wait a few minutes longer," said Virginia resident Ashley Burdick,

Ashley Burdick and her family have been waiting several months to see her husband, who is returning from military training. But his flight is delayed arriving at Reagan National Airport.

"We've been having daily countdowns," she said. "And then three days ago we started hourly countdowns. And then today we were counting minutes. And now we're still counting minutes."

So while it wasn’t necessarily a nightmarish commute for all commuters on Wednesday, Sunday will be the busiest travel day of the year, and a true test of America’s travel network.