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Tips for Trouble-Free Thanksgiving Travel Plans: Avoiding Delays, Stress on the U.S.’s Busiest Holiday Travel Days

Published by Lane Wickstrom

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Every year, the television news broadcasts show the same scenarios throughout the United States: Thanksgiving travelers stranded in airports, delayed trains, overpacked buses, and bumper to bumper traffic. And every year, people who swore they’d never do it again contend once more with Thanksgiving holiday travel. There’s no way to get around the fact that the busiest travel days of the year occur right about when the first winter storms typically roll across northern cities with busy hub airports. But a few travel strategies can ease the hassle and help avoid holiday travel delays.

Planning Tips for Booking Plane Flights for Thanksgiving Travel

There’s no good time to travel over the Thanksgiving holidays, but some times are worse than others. . Wednesday evening and Sunday evening are the busiest times. Late morning or early afternoon on Thanksgiving Day is marginally better. If possible, try to leave a few days early or stay a few days later. Travelers may be stuck doing that anyway, if an overbooked flight is canceled.

For trips of fewer than seven-hours driving time, consider driving or taking a train, rather than flying. Between an average hour’s drive to an airport, an hour check-in time, and a two hour flight, and an hour to get to the destination at the other end, staying on the ground for anything less than a five-hour drive is a good bet. Add in the almost inevitable delays, and a seven-hour drive starts looking pretty good, and a lot less stressful. Depending on the location, traffic can still be a problem, but the odds are that drivers will arrive at their destinations within a reasonable margin. Do, however, try to schedule the drive to avoid major metropolitan zones right after work on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving.

Ask about a seat reservation when the flight is booked. Some airlines stick supposedly confirmed passengers who don’t request a seat on standby, and that’s bad news on fully-booked holiday flights.

Checking in for Holiday Travel

All the major United States airlines now offer on-line check-in, which is 24 hours before the flight, closing one hour before domestic departures. This includes: Air Canada, AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, JetBlue, United Airlines, US Airways, and Southwest Airlines.

Note that Southwest Airlines has open seating, which means the first passengers on the airplane get to pick the best seats (and take all the overhead space). However, it’s not a free-for-all. At check in, passengers are assigned a number, which determines the order of boarding, based on check-in time (with the exception of a few premiere fliers who get to skip to the front of the line). Checking in on-line 24 hours before the flight guarantees an earlier boarding, and hence, better seat selection and more places to stow luggage.

Even with a computer check in boarding pass, arrive at the airport at least an hour ahead of time to get through security. All passengers need a government-issued photo ID.

Packing for Holiday Travel

Speaking of luggage, pack the absolute minimum: A bag that can fit under the seat if it has to is ideal. Overhead bins will be bulging, and between the additional checked-luggage fees and the hassles of baggage claim in a busy airport , it’s a lot less trouble to go without something than to have to carry it.

Be aware that luggage limitations are strictly enforced during holidays. passengers are allowed two items: a carry-on and a personal item. It will not be possible to carry on an overstuffed shoulder bag, a handbag, a suitcase that doesn’t quite fit in the sizing bins, a guitar, and a shopping bag full of gifts. Don’t even try.

Passengers who aren’t familiar with current TSA travel rules are easily spotted at the security desk: they’re the ones fussing with shoes and jackets, or worse, arguing about bringing on board a bottle of champagne. Needless to say, this annoys everyone behind them. FAA requirements for check on luggage limit carry on liquids to three ounce containers, which should all be together (and available for inspection) in a clear plastic bag.

Send presents, don’t carry them. Any presents must be transported unwrapped, or the passenger will be asked to unwrap them at security. The people at the back of the line will not be amused.

Finally, bring some travel comfort items for the flight, including a few snacks, a bottle of water (bought at the airport; it can’t be taken through security), comfortable clothes, any medications (never check them). Books, magazines, electronic games, a Kindle, , or a work project that needs some attention can keep a traveler’s mind off of delays . Remember that airlines no longer serve food, and even charge for chintzy little snacks, so bring food from home or buy something at the airport.

The holidays are a great time to be with family and friends. But getting there can be a challenge. With the foregoing tips and a little luck, travelers over the Thanksgiving holidays might just get where they are going with a minimum of travail.

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