There are still plenty of hotel rooms available in Philadelphia, airlines aren’t adding flights, and Amtrak tickets are still for sale.
Are 1.5 million people really coming to see Pope Francis in Philly?
As security details about the pope’s visit have been unveiled in recent weeks, details of travel restrictions and traffic bottlenecks have caused some to worry that pilgrims will stay away due to crowds. The next weeks could present some crucial indicators as to whether the throngs meet estimates.
Airport officials say that airlines usually plan capacity about six weeks out — a horizon that, for the Pope’s visit on Sept. 26 and 27, has passed.
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“As of now, we’ve not seen an increase in reservations other than to say that this is typically a very busy time for us,” said American Airlines spokeswoman Victoria Lupica.
An Amtrak spokesman said Wednesday that the rail service will make an announcement soon on added capacity, but as of Thursday, tickets were still available from New York to Philadelphia for Sept. 27, the day the organizers
All of the organizers point to charter buses as a major source of visitors. GOGROUND, the transportation management company tasked with managing the influx of charter buses originally said they expected 4,000.
The president of GOGROUND told KYW on Wednesday that “more than 1,000” have registered.
A spokeswoman for SEPTA, meanwhile, said on Friday that more than 100,000 of the 350,000 special regional rail tickets were left unsold after an online lottery.
Jerry Williams told Metro Friday that the transit agency is now doing brisk business selling the tickets in bulk to hotel operators and tour organizers.
Hotel rooms, too, remain available, much to the surprise of some managers in the hospitality business.
“I think people thought it’s going to be a nightmare – the whole week of World Meeting of Families as well as the weekend of the pope visit,” Michelle Simpson, manager of The Sonestatold the station.
To be sure, even if crowds fall short of expectations, they could be massive. Organizers say Pope Francis — sometimes referred to as the “cool pope” for his attention to the poor and playing down the causes that social conservatives hold dear — has drawn throngs wherever he goes.
Mayor Michael Nutter brushed off suggestions that the pope won’t draw the masses.
“For this kind of event, I would much rather be over-prepared than under-prepared,” Nutter said at a City Hall news conference on Thursday.
Underwhelming turnout for a papal visit is not unheard of. When Pope John Paul II visited New Orleans in 1987, crowds were roughly half of what was expected, The New York Times reported.
Organizers said John Paul II had a tough time competing with a large number of athletic events. T ulane, Louisiana State and the New Orleans Saints all had home games that weekend.