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Glad songs and cider to soothe the savage traveler

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When some weary travelers get off their planes today at Newark International Airport, they will see Robert Baldwin, a Sammy Davis Jr. look-alike, crooning in the corridors: "Hello, my friends, welcome to Newark."

Mr. Baldwin, a former hotel concierge, is a "red jacket," a greeter who does everything from give directions to the men's room to help people with overstuffed Samsonites. "He's often the first friendly face a traveler sees," says Michael Bekiarian, a supervisor.

Singing workers are just one way airports will be trying to ease the impact of a record number of travelers winging it to grandmother's house this week. From LAX in Los Angeles to New York's Laguardia, the nation's airports will move 20 million passengers over the holiday - more than the population of Texas.

Chicago's O'Hare Airport is offering passengers cider and gingerbread cookies at security checkpoints. In Austin, Texas, parking-lot attendants will act as white-gloved traffic cops, guiding people directly to open spaces. When they get inside the terminal, there will be live entertainment.

Yes, bring on the clowns: There's no question passengers flying this holiday period will need these efforts - and possibly more.

Once they get to the check-in counter, fliers may find out they've been grounded because of labor problems. During the past month, for example, United Airlines has had to cancel scores of flights because its mechanics refuse to work overtime. In fact, almost every major airline has at least one unhappy group of employees.

Yet others will face delays simply because there are so many people in the air. The 20.5 million people expected to travel over a 12-day period represent a 700,000-passenger increase from over a year ago, which itself was a record. With 85 percent of seats filled, there won't be a lot of stretch in the system. "Every plane will be in use - even senior executives will be on deck throwing luggage around," says David Stemper of the Air Travelers Association.


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