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Traveling smart and prepared for Thanksgiving

WASHINGTON D.C. — Almost every year TSA pushes out a report that it’s going to be the busiest Thanksgiving ever at all the airports. It’s almost as routine as the sun returning in the sky each day. So with that same run-of-the-mill report coming out this year, it seemed of the essence to come up with a detailed plan for flyers. This article will also cover navigating a Thanksgiving road trip.

The Thanksgiving rush is expected to start early on the Friday before Turkey Day. The busiest day overall will likely be the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Most people will be traveling home then.

The TSA expects to screen up to 2.6 million people per day leading up to Thanksgiving and 2.7 million people on the following Sunday.

This would be a 25% or more increase from TSA’s daily numbers. It will also be a 7% increase in traffic from last Thanksgiving.

AAA projects 54.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving, a 4.8 percent increase over last year.

If you’re flying on Thanksgiving Day or Friday, you can expect there to be less foot traffic in airports. Those will be the lightest traffic days both by plane and car.

TSA expects Sunday this year to break into the TSA’s top 10 busiest days ever. The current record holders of the top 10 spots for passengers screened include:

  1. November 28, 2004, Sunday after Thanksgiving: 2,713,864
  2. November 19, 2004, Friday before Thanksgiving: 2,652,347
  3. June 30, 2017, Friday of the Fourth of July Weekend: 2,647,852
  4. November 29, 2004, Monday after Thanksgiving: 2,642,566
  5. November 26, 2017, Sunday after Thanksgiving: 2,609,372
  6. November 5, 2004: 2,569,252
  7. June 29, 2017, Thursday before the Fourth of July Weekend: 2,540,110
  8. July 1, 2005, Friday of the Fourth of July Weekend: 2,534,052
  9. May 26, 2017, Friday of Memorial Day Weekend: 2,530,310
  10. July 21, 2017: 2,527,816

You’ll want to plan extra carefully if you’re traveling to the following 10 cities. The AAA listed the cities as the most booked destinations.

  1. Orlando, Florida (expect long lines at Disney World)
  2. New York City, New York
  3. Anaheim, California (long lines at Disney Land)
  4. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  5. Las Vegas, Nevada (don’t spend all your year’s earnings)
  6. Cancun, Mexico
  7. Dallas, Texas
  8. Honolulu, Hawaii
  9. Washington D.C.
  10. Miami, Florida

When to arrive at the airport

Wait times will be lengthy. Travelers should arrive earlier than usual to the airport to make sure they don’t miss their flight.

If you’re not checking luggage, arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before your scheduled departure time.

If you’re checking in luggage: 2 hours.

If you have an international flight: 3 hours and 30 minutes.

For every additional child in your party: add 20 minutes (till you hit 4 hours)

Add an hour if you’re bringing a pet or service animal.

Bringing luggage

The less items you bring into the airport, the smoother things will go. Pick a smaller suitcase than you would normally bring with you. Always take luggage with wheels. Wear clothes you can layer, but avoid wearing metal. Leave your precious jewelry at home. Shower before going to the airport, this way random dirt or particles won’t somehow slow you down at a security checkpoint; same goes with your bags. Check to make sure your purse, wallet, carry-on, and luggage are clean. Lookout for grime and dirt that may have collected.

If you can buy travel-size shampoo and soap at your destination, or if it will be provided, avoid taking it with you on the trip. It is encouraged to bring a toothbrush in your carry-on. Depending on how long you’re flying and all the airport and airplane food you’ll run into, a toothbrush can be a nice reprieve. Minimize whatever belongings you are taking. If you don’t need a carry-on, then don’t bring it.

When going through TSA lines, quickly put your bags into containers. Take off your shoes, coat, and scarf and put into containers. Makeup, liquids, and electronics will need to be in separate containers from your bags — TSA needs to see those items clearly. Before getting into the security line, check your pockets for unnecessary items. Throw away items you don’t need: like bobby pins, pennies, and other small metals. Also, if you wear contacts or glasses, it is best advised to wear glasses throughout the trip. If you go back and forth between glasses and contacts, it could end up stopping you at a checkpoint because your picture was taken with a different look.

Read all signs before going into lines and read any signs as you go through a line. Different airports will have different instructions. Always have your boarding pass and passport ready, but it also always needs to be protected. Be on guard for pocket-thieves. Passports in particular are valuable and can sell for a lot of money. Be consistent with where you put your boarding pass, passport, and wallet, so you can get into a rhythm of checking on these items and pulling them out quickly.

For most travel plans, you do not check your baggage at each flight. You’ll look for your baggage at baggage claim following the last flight.

Never leave any carry-ons or other items unattended.

Before going to the airport

A passenger jet arriving at the gate at an international airport. (photo courtesy of Gregory Adams via Getty Images)

The night before your flight try to have a good night’s rest and have the majority (if not everything) packed. It’s a bad idea to go out partying like crazy the night before you fly. You’ll want extra energy the day you fly, to navigate labyrinth-like-airports, and so you can be ready to make fast paced decisions. If coffee makes you more aggressive and less focused — it might be best to skip it.

Before you arrive at the airport, check your flight information — know which airline you’ll be using, look online to make sure your flight is still as scheduled and there are no delays or weather problems. Some flight information will tell you the gate where you’ll be staying. It’s a good idea to see how long your layovers will be if you have any.

It’s also good to check to make sure your arrival airport and destination airport are both correct. It’s all too easy to book Springfield, Illinois when you meant to book Springfield, Missouri.

If you or someone in your party gets nauseous easily, have Dramamine® on you.

While booking your flight, check to make sure your identification and passport are up to date.

For those who have children, make sure you plan out their outfits the night before the flight or have the older children plan out their outfits. It is wise to wear layers as you may go through several conditions. It can be hot in airports; it can be cold on airplanes.

Children especially need good sleep before going, which is easier said than done, but they can be fussy and confused when off their schedule — and also excited to see grandma and grandpa. Going to the airport early can help you to have patience and turn the experience into quality time with your family instead of a shared nightmare.

Make sure that you have a plan for when you arrive at your destination airport. You can have someone pick you up, take an Uber, or call a taxi. If someone isn’t picking you up, make sure before starting your journey you know the address of where you’re going. Also, make sure the time you’re arriving at your parents’ house is a good time and has been discussed. No one likes people showing up at their door unannounced.

Be prepared to adjust plans. You may end up having to change course after a flight gets canceled, either traveling to your destination or on the way back home. If you don’t have your boss’ phone number in your cell already, do it now in case of an emergency.

Throughout the country we’ll likely see some precipitation leading to Thanksgiving and after it. Do pack an umbrella, wear a coat with multiple pockets, and wear comfy-warm shoes for walking. This is not the time for heels or complicated shoes that will slow you down in lines.

Eating at the airport

It can be expensive, so watch your wallet. It’s usually best to eat at airports during layovers. Stopping at a restaurant can take 45 minutes to an hour. Fast food lines should move faster. Before eating at any airport, first find your gate. Actually make your way down to the gate and see it with your own eyes, then decide where you want to eat. Always pick something close. If you’re feeling nice, pay it forward and buy the next customer’s meal.

This isn’t the time to try a food you’re not familiar with as it could upset your stomach, and this is extra true for children. They need to eat something pretty normal for them that isn’t too complicated. You’re not required to eat at the airport, so don’t force yourself to eat. Most flights will have a snack — a meal would be shown on a flight ticket and those are generally reserved for longer flights or international flights.

Fun fact: studies show tomato juice tastes better when you’re thousands of miles up in the air. Something about the flight conditions make it taste fruitier.

Bathroom breaks

When you find your gate, make sure you know the location of the nearest bathroom. It’s a wise idea to go to the bathroom before getting on a plane. This is also a good time to wash your hands and do some basic hygiene updates. If you can, use some mouthwash or brush your teeth. Dramamine® needs to be taken 30 minutes before traveling. All children in your party need to use the bathroom before flying. Make sure they wash their hands and don’t talk or get too friendly with strangers. Always go into the restroom area with the child and don’t let them go by themselves — this doesn’t mean you have to go into the stalls with them, that should be reserved for the youngest travelers who haven’t quite mastered potty training. Be courteous to all custodians in the restroom and try to use the opposite end of the room from where they are cleaning rather than get in way.

While on the plane

Quickly place your belongings in designated storage locations. Do not leave anything in the aisles. Help others if they are struggling to get their bags into overhead storage. As soon as possible, get seated with your seat belt fastened. Give something to children to keep their hands and minds busy. If someone has never flown, calmly explain to them what will happen when flying to ease any concerns.

Be as quiet as possible without creating a disruption. Do not get upset or make a big deal if someone’s baby cries, etc. Do not pester flight attendants with unnecessary questions or concerns. Listen when flight attendants go over where gates are for upcoming flights. When the plane lands, be ready to move into action to get all of your belongings and move forward into the next airport. Double check that you have all your most important items: passport, cellphone, and wallet.

Also while on the plane, make sure your kids have good behavior — or at least decent behavior. For long flights, make sure they go to the bathroom. They need to keep their feet to themselves and not kick the seat in front of them. Keep them busy with movies, coloring, and other activities so they don’t bother others. Try to put your children in seats that are away from strangers.

Feeling sick

If you got a sick bug while flying, there is usually in the seat in front of you a bag to discard anything that comes up.

Make sure you wash your hands frequently while traveling. Do not make a big scene on the plane. Let professionals handle the situation if you are having an emergency. Your emergency contact information should be available, at least with your phone or passport.

If you feel nauseous when you are at the airport, take time to relax before you go into a taxi or other vehicle. An unsettled stomach can spell disaster. If you are feeling ill and go into a taxi in stop and go traffic… it could make you feel worse. Most taxi services will charge if you throw up in the vehicle. It can cost you $50, along with a slice of your dignity.

This is also why it is a good idea to get a good night’s rest before flying. Sometimes the motion of the plane or the food might unsettle you, even for veteran flyers this can happen by surprise.

Courtesy is priority

Whether you’re meeting flight attendants, buying food, or going through TSA — courtesy is always important. Your day will go much smoother if you are kind to the people you meet who are helping you get from one place to the next. Giving these people headaches is a bad idea, and they could even do things to make your day worse by a slight of hand.

If you are kind to staff — often they’ll thank you for your kindness in some way, by offering you a better seat, a hotel to stay when flights get canceled, or they’ll give you important information about your travel destination.

It is important to be attentive and to listen to those who are working. Starting up arguments or getting upset won’t make the process easier. Explain your problems calmly — and you’ll impress the people who have power behind the scenes.

If you have experienced a bad flight or airport situation, one of the best things you can do is take note of it and then contact the airline or airport to express your complaint. It’s hard sometimes to solve malfunctions in the moment, but a written email detailing the points gives staff enough time to respond. This can often lead to reimbursements or refunds for faults in the system. It’s also better for legal purposes because you have things in written form.

Good manners can go a long way. Always say “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Again, good manners will lead to better results. Bad manners could lead to you getting kicked off planes.

Driving across the United States for Thanksgiving

  • Before you hit the road, the first thing you need to check is what’s inside your vehicle. Take out any unnecessary items that will weigh down your car and potentially spike up your gas bill.
  • You should have the following in your car before a long trip: a spare tire, jumper cables, tool kit, ice scraper, cellphone charger, and first aid kit. You also need your car insurance in a place that’s easy for you to find. This is a good time to make sure your driver’s license and car insurance are updated.
  • Highways and other heavily traveled areas will be backed up around the holiday. Expect road trips to be an extra hour longer. It is advised to not travel in heavily trafficked areas around rush hour.
  • Before going on the trip, fuel up. Expect that roads may be icy or that you’ll run into late fall rainstorms. Check the weather to make sure that your destination isn’t getting hit by an ice storm. You may have to cancel your trip in the event of bad weather — there’s no point in seeing relatives if the power is out, unless they’re needing your help.
  • Packing snacks or meals will help save on time and money.
  • Keep Dramamine® on hand. Again, it needs to be taken 30 minutes before travel.
  • Make sure you are well rested before driving. Do not text and drive. You shouldn’t text and drive anyway, but road conditions will likely be even more complicated, so designate someone as the navigator and to handle messages if need be. If you’re traveling by yourself, messages can wait to be read at a later time. Your eyes are meant to be on the road and your brain needs to be ready for quick decision making.
  • Before hitting the road for a long trip, take your vehicle to the mechanic to make sure there isn’t anything malfunctioning with your car. Maybe you need an oil change, the tires need to be aired up, or the filter needs to be changed. This is a good time for a check-up if you haven’t had one in awhile. Schedule sooner rather than later.
  • For the 48.5 million Americans planning a Thanksgiving road trip, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel times  could be four times longer than a normal trip.
  • In most cases, the best days to travel will be on Thanksgiving Day, Friday, or Saturday. Drivers should expect increased travel times on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday and the Sunday after it.
  • It may help to bring some herbal tea, plan out a good podcast list or music playlist to calm your nerves and avoid road rage. No matter how bad things get, don’t resort to road rage and create more problems. This road trip, too, shall pass.
  • Black Friday traffic will be the worst mid-afternoon. It is advised to take public transportation or carpool. You can also buy most things online, and some of the best deals are on Cyber Monday.