NEW YORK, Nov 23 (Reuters) - U.S. airports are trotting out friendly companion dogs to calm jittery travelers and offering perks including free parking on Wednesday as throngs of people rush toward their Thanksgiving holiday celebrations.
Up to 2.8 million people per day, about 600,000 more than average, are expected to fly in the United States over the coming six days, making it a busy period for travel, according to the trade group Airlines for America.
Airports won't be the only crowded places as some 48.7 million people, the most since 2007, are expected to travel 50 miles (80 km) or farther for the holiday, according to motor club AAA. It said the 1.9 percent increase from last year's level reflected an improving economy and low gasoline prices.
To relieve passengers' anxiety, airports in cities including Chicago and Memphis, Tennessee, are deploying therapy dogs to wander terminals with their owners and make new friends.
At Chicago's Midway and O'Hare International Airports, the dogs in service this week include a Jack Russell Terrier mix and a German Shepherd mix provided by a local charitable group, Canine Therapy Corps.
"Just the entertainment of a dog distracting your attention for a least a little while helps to improve your experience at the airport," said Ann Davidson, the group's operations manager.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport said it was giving up to seven days of free parking to the first 1,000 cars that entered through specially marked lanes starting on Wednesday morning.
The New York City area's three busiest airports were somewhat less generous, offering reduced rates for a limited time for parking at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark International airports.
Weather could complicate travel in several regions. Lingering show showers were expected in upstate New York. Heavy rain was forecast from central California north to Washington state, and severe storms were possible across the southern and central Plains, the National Weather Service said.
Potentially shortening lines for some air travelers, the Transportation Security Administration and United Airlines said on Tuesday they deployed new, more efficient security screening lanes at Newark's Liberty International Airport that could reduce wait time by 30 percent.
Similar lanes opened this month at Chicago O'Hare and Los Angeles International Airport.
Amtrak said it had added extra trains and seats to accommodate rail passengers along some of its busiest lines, including along the East Coast, in southern California and the Pacific Northwest. (Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Additional reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)