State patrol, Sioux Falls Airport brace for busiest travel days of the year

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 7:22 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The next few days mark the busiest travel stretch of the year. According to AAA, 8% more Americans are hitting the roads while 77% more are flying.

This means both the State Patrol and Sioux Falls Airport are bracing for more traffic and more threats to both our safety and our patience.

“You’re with family. You’re having fun. You have a couple drinks and you decide to drive home,” state patrol officer Nathan Moore of Pierre said. “That’s why we’re out. That’s why we’re enforcing the law. We want to make sure everyone arrives at their destination safely.”

Nearly 200 crashes resulted in 27 injuries -- and fortunately, no deaths -- occurred last year on South Dakota roads Wednesday thru Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.

That’s why Wednesday is one of the few “Operation Safe” days of the year for the state highway patrol. It’s an initiative that includes a heavier presence of state troopers on interstates and highways than most days, and you can guess the reason why.

“I think there’s more of a freedom for some people to travel on the holidays and maybe have a couple more drinks than they normally would with their families and then drive home,” Moore said.

Moore says that while DUI arrests are the patrol’s biggest enforcement.

“Seat belt enforcement is huge for us. Last year, we had somewhere around 65% of our fatal crashes occur when somebody was not wearing a seat belt.”

Another concern is drivers who don’t do enough to help officers when they are moving fast.

“If you do see flashing red, blue, or yellow lights, please slow down -- 20 miles an hour under the speed limit, or move over into the furthest lane away,” said Moore.

Meanwhile, the Sioux Falls Regional Airport is in store for a lot more foot traffic this weekend.

Director Dan Lettelier expected 1,900 fliers Wednesday and 2,200 on Sunday, compared to 1,500 on an average day and 1,300 on Thanksgiving Wednesday last year, before Covid-19 vaccines were widely available.

With a rising number of flights out of Sioux Falls to more destinations than ever, Lettelier said employing enough staff to handle bigger crowds will be a challenge, and warned fliers to brace for long lines.

“Pack a lot of patience,” Lettelier said. “Get to the airport early. You know, even in Sioux Falls, we like to say at least 90 minutes if not more ahead of time. Get here early if you’re checking luggage. Get to the gate, rest and relax before your flight, and try to reduce as much of the stress as you can. Don’t hurry.”

Another reason to get there early? So you can relax with a cocktail at the airport bar. Some flights are no longer offering alcohol because of recent tantrums and occasional assaults of flight attendants who try to enforce mask-wearing.

That’s one way to sum up measures taken for increased travel in 2021 -- Crackdowns on both drinking and driving and drinking and flying.

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