Thanksgiving recalls turkey, family, football, and stretch pants. And if you’re one of the 28.5 million passengers expected to fly this holiday week, we at CSE would like to take some stress out of travel this week by reviewing some new airport strategies for getting to the turkey and stuffing ASAP.
From our family to yours, we wish you safe and speedy travels to those you hold dear this Thanksgiving holiday.
It’s no secret that you’ll have lots of company at the airport if you’re flying for Thanksgiving.
A record 28.5 million passengers are expected to flow through U.S. airports during a 12-day period around the holiday, according to projections from the trade group Airlines for America. If accurate, that total would shatter the previous Thanksgiving record of 27 million passengers that was set just last year.
So, what should you know if you’re headed to the airport during next few days? Plenty.
Some tips are constant: Arrive early. Brace for crowds. Pack smart. That advice changes little from year to year. But there are some updates for 2017 that are different than in previous years.
1. What’s new?
There are some recent security changes in place that travelers are likely to notice. Topping the list is a new requirement by the Transportation Security Administration that all electronics larger than a cellphone must be removed from carry-on bags from screening. Fliers will be required to place these items by themselves in bins to go through scanning. Eligible fliers selected to use the Pre-Check lines will be exempt, but all fliers should pack knowing that it’s possible these devices might have to be removed for screening.
2. Busiest days
Airports will see a steady rush throughout the holiday period, but Thanksgiving is notorious for two peak days: the Wednesday before and the Sunday after.
That’s no different for 2017. The busiest day of the period is expected to be Sunday, Nov. 26. In fact, it will be one of the busier air travel days of the entire year, with an estimated 2.88 million passengers expected at U.S. airports, according to Airlines for America. The next busiest days will be Wednesday, Nov. 22, and Friday, Nov. 17. The lightest day will be Thursday, Nov. 23 – Thanksgiving Day.
Still, there will be variations at airports around the country. At Orlando International, for example, officials say its two busiest days during the 12-day period will be the Saturday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25) and the Saturday before (Nov. 18).
LIST: The world's 20 busiest airports in 2016
3. Allow extra time, expect busy terminals
No one wants to spend more time than necessary waiting in an airport terminal. However, this isn’t the time of year to test how close you can cut it.
Aside from the possibility of busy terminals and long lines at check-in and security, expect heavier-than-usual traffic on entrance roadways, parking shuttles and public transportation. Inside the terminal, unusually heavy crowds may lead to back-ups at check-in counters and security lines.
A good rule of thumb for Thanksgiving: Arrive at the airport 45 to 60 minutes earlier than you normally would. You’ll be glad you did, especially if you find yourself stuck in a security line filled with slow-moving families making their once-a-year holiday trip. If you know your airport is especially prone to long holiday lines, consider arriving up to 90 minutes earlier than normal. Remember: If you miss your flight, this is a tough time of the year to find empty seats on other flights.
4. Pack smart
Pack your carry-ons with security lines in mind. Remember, that unless you’re eligible for the TSA’s Precheck lines, laptops and liquids must come out separately to go through the screening checkpoints.
This especially important this year with new TSA electronics rules. Remember, these items must each be placed in their own bins as you go through security.
For the infrequent fliers, remember that most liquids are prohibited from carry-ons unless they are in containers of 3.4 ounces or less and are held in a clear quart-sized plastic bag. (See the TSA’s full “3-1-1” rules on liquids). Some exceptions are made for liquids related to medical or childcare needs, but it may be smart to brush up on those rules. In addition, certain food items may be difficult to bring through security lines.
Pack so that your laptops, liquids and other items can be quickly taken in and out of your luggage. That will not only speed up your trip through security, but will also shorten the wait for those behind you.
And if you’re bringing presents, holding off on wrapping them. The TSA doesn’t prohibit wrapped presents, but it does warn that you may have to unwrap them if something inside raises alarms.
If you check a bag – either in advance or at the gate after your plane runs out of overhead bin space – remember to keep all of your important medicines and valuable items in your carry-on. If you’re forced to check a bag at the last moment, remove valuables as well as fragile items that could be damaged.
5. Keep an eye on potential travel trouble spots
Watch the weather starting as early as 72 hours leading up to your flight. It may be sunny and warm where you are, but there could be problems between you and your destination. Snow, wind, rain and poor visibility are some of the most common weather problems for the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
If there’s poor weather at home – or at your destination – monitor your airline’s website for potential updates. In some cases, airlines will issue weather waivers that may allow you to move your flight at no cost to avoid weather-related disruptions.
Nearly every carrier’s website now lets you check the status of your flight. On the day of your flight (or the evening before), keep tabs on your flight status. The sooner you know there’s a cancellation or delay that could affect your travel, the sooner you’ll be able to troubleshoot it with your airline or travel agent.
6. Keep your phones and electronic devices handy
If your flight is canceled or delayed and you need to book a new flight, most people wait at their gate or head to an airline customer service desk to get help with a new ticket. That works, but you can also call the airline's reservation number to ask for help in getting a new flight, perhaps beating those in line to a seat. If your phone is low on power, keep your airline's 1-800 number handy and go looking for an old-school payphone.
Also, many airlines have added rebooking features on their mobile apps that allow customers to select new flights during so-called "irregular" operations. That can be a little more difficult during the holidays when disruptions affect so many fliers, but -- if your carrier's mobile app has such a feature -- it's another option that might help you snag a new flight. And you can always try your hand looking for a new flight on your airline's website or app.
7. Pack your patience
Perhaps the golden rule of travel, this is especially important during the busy holiday rush. Lines are longer and airports and airplanes are even more crowded than normal. Nerves fray easier. But even when things get stressful, take a deep breath and smile. A courteous nod to a fellow traveler will increase the chances that’ll they’ll be courteous to you.
And never take out your frustrations out on airline employees, most of whom are conscientious workers doing their best to get everyone on their way during an intensely busy time.
Even if you’re convinced your airline has wronged you, remember that these front line workers often control your fate in getting to your final destination. Being polite and respectful will bring better service than being hostile or rude. Ask for a supervisor if you must, but know he or she may not have a different answer than the one you’ve already been given. Above all, always try to show everyone along the way the same respect you’d want.