Travel expenses, economic concern keep many from leaving campus

This year, the economy may have the last laugh as students struggle to make it home for Thanksgiving.

By Al Gaspari

In 1940, facing a grim economic climate, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt unleashed a powerful weapon to bolster the struggling nation: Thanksgiving. He moved the holiday up one week to lengthen the traditional post-Thanksgiving shopping period, a mandate that held for only one year.

But this year, the economy may have the last laugh as students struggle to make it home for Thanksgiving.

“I was planning on flying back to New York, but then my family said it would be better to go to Michigan on the train,” said third-year Luis Brennan, who will be visiting family in the Midwest instead of flying east. “I don’t mind it. Plane fares are expensive.”

Fourth-year Shane Blackman also had to make travel-plan concessions. He used to fly home to Tucson, AZ, on United Airlines, but now he uses Southwest.

“With recent economy trends, it doesn’t make sense for people to fly with an airline that offers more of a luxury spin,” he said.

But he’s still spending money on a ticket because his parents expect him to celebrate the holiday at home.

“I’m lucky to have parents to put me through college. The least I can do is go home for Thanksgiving,” Blackman said.

With more people weighing their travel plans against their budget, airlines have had to cut back on their flight offerings in recent months.

“As have all major airlines, American has reduced flights in the third and fourth quarters of this year,” said American Airlines spokesperson Mary Frances Fagan, who said that American has cut more than 50 departures from O’Hare between July and December.

A spokesperson for United Airlines indicated that United is also trying to cut costs.

“We’re flying fewer planes this year,” she said.

But this Thanksgiving is a tough one for reasons beyond the economy. Its late timing, so close to finals week, poses a challenge to students.

“ 99 percent cost. The other one percent is the amount of traveling in a short amount of time. It’s hard to get a lot of work done,” third-year student Isak Poirier said.

Like many other students who are staying put, he said he can wait for winter break.

“I’m going to see them in two weeks. I’ve waited eight weeks, I can wait another two,” Poirier said.

Allen Sanderson, lecturer of economics, understands why students are avoiding trips home.

“In economics jargon, it would fail the benefit-cost test,” he said.

Perhaps taking a page from Roosevelt’s book, Sanderson proposed that Thanksgiving day be changed to increase the holiday’s efficiency.

“I wish the U.S. would adopt the Canadian Thanksgiving . The holidays come too close together. It comes too close to the end of the quarter,” he said. “Two hundred years ago, it made sense, when we were an agricultural society, and  coincided with the harvest,” he said, adding that these days the fourth Thursday in November has no significance.

And the inconvenience doesn’t affect students alone.

“Thanksgiving really breaks up the academic week. Some students are taking those days off. I teach on Wednesday, and there are only two-thirds of the students in class. It means I have to repeat a lot of the material,” he said.

Instead of moving the date of the holiday, one student had another ambitious proposal: move the academic year.

“ can’t help the fact that Christmas and major holidays fall on that time. It would be really great if they could move the year so that we’d be done by Thanksgiving,” said second-year Pam Perez.

Perez will be joining her boyfriend and his family for dinner on the Northside because she could not afford a $700 plane ticket to her home in Miami. But for those without Chicago connections, the University sponsors a Thanksgiving lunch in Hutchinson Commons on Thursday afternoon.

According to Sanderson, if the University hosted a larger celebration, the costs of traveling home—including the money and the hassle—might compel people to stick around.

He also volunteered to sweeten the benefits.

“If the University would establish a University-wide event, I would chip in some pies: pecan and cherry,” he said.