Dawn Farmer of Washington, D.C. dragged her bags to the back of Southwest Airline's e-ticket check-in queue at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Friday.
It was a line that switch-backed the length of the Southwest Airlines check-in area four or five times, then spilled past the Aero Mexico and Air Canada ticket counters to the middle of the British Airways section.
"I thought people would wait till the weekend to fly, and I'd beat the rush," Farmer said. "Obviously I was wrong."
In fact, Farmer chose to go home from a Christmas visit with her parents on what is pegged to be Sky Harbor's busiest day of the entire three-week-long holiday travel season.
By noon, the airport's economy parking lots were full, and a holiday overflow lot, which wasn't needed at all during Thanksgiving, was opened to accommodate the crush of cars still expected to arrive later today for a multi-day stay.
On a typical day, Sky Harbor accommodates 100,000 passengers. On Friday it geared up to handle 130,000 to 140,000.
By late afternoon, the predictions of giant crowds seemed to be on target, said Julie Rodriguez, airport spokeswoman.
"Customer service said this is the busiest they've seen," Rodriguez said. "We have people coming and going for a variety of reasons all day."
Early morning crowds never slowed to the typical mid-afternoon lull, she said, as holiday travelers merged with Bowl game visitors and the typical Friday bigger-than-average business.
But despite the crowds, the lines and the waits, the holiday spirit was clearly evident among passengers.
"There are far worse things than being stuck in a line today," Farmer said.
Among them, being stuck inside a packed plane at an unintended destination, for example.
Briana Ward of Phoenix, along with her mom, dad and four siblings, was happy to be back in the Valley despite the half-hour delay of her flight from Portland, Ore.
"This is really crowded, but it's not bad at all," Ward said of her airport experience. "It was just terrible getting there."
The Ward family left Sky Harbor for a two-hour flight to Portland Monday. Winter storms were on the way there, too.
The Wards eventually arrived at their destination seven hours later, spending an unexpected two-hour layover in the plane on the tarmac in Seattle.
But bad weather was a boon for the travel plans of William Stewart and Joan Davis of Santa Barbara, Calif.
The couple had been on a holiday cross-country trip to visit family in various locations and were booked to fly Friday from Nashville, Tenn. to Sky Harbor via Chicago.
The airline instead rerouted them on a direct flight to avoid the big clog at Chicago caused by days of weather delays.
"This gave us three extra hours here," Davis said.