Thanksgiving day is the most popular day for travel of the year. And when it comes to airports, which have already cut back on staffing and flights offerings, high traffic days mean more congestion, longer lines, and heightened security — a deadly trip particularly when traveling with family. So how can you make it through your turkey day travels with relative ease? It all comes down to the three P’s: plan ahead, pack accordingly, and pick your travel times wisely.
By now you should know the travel hack trick of checking in early, we’re talking 24-hours-in-advance early. Whether you have assigned seating or not, it’s one less line you have to stand in when you get to the airport. Plus, if you’re not checking any bags, you can walk straight through to the security line. You should know the drill by now: have your boarding pass and ID in hand, wear easily removable footwear, place all your carry-on liquids in a plastic baggy, and remove your laptop from your bag. There’s nothing more annoying than the person who takes 20 minutes at the conveyor belt because they’re not prepared.
If you’re getting a ride to the airport, consider having your driver, whether family, friend, or hired transportation, drop you off at arrivals instead of departures to avoid the traffic backup. And if you have loved ones who will pick you up and drop you off, consider choosing smaller, neighboring airports in the major cities to cut down on costs and hassle (i.e.; Oakland instead of San Francisco or Midway instead of O’Hare).
If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving weekend, you’re most likely traveling to family with family. Don’t stuff your bag full of every possible wardrobe option, accessory, and toiletry; you can either borrow what you’re missing or pick up an extra once you get to your destination. It couldn’t hurt, however, to throw a few snacks in your bags, especially when traveling with little ones. There’s never a reason to pay airport prices for food, and you can avoid wasting time during your layover searching the terminal for a meal.
But if your bags must be on the heavier side — maybe you’re family happens to be the kind that lives farther from civilization than normal — consider hiring a courier service to ship your bags in advance. Not only is this a great option for large families to eliminate the hassle of trying to keep track of more than one bag per person, it will assure that your bags don’t get lost or delayed by the airlines. Plus, it will help you breeze through airport security.
It’s best to avoid packing valuables, but we understand that tradition abounds during Thanksgiving, and maybe your feast would be incomplete without great grandma’s candlestick holders. Always search your luggage right after pulling it off the carousel to make sure everything you packed is still intact. If something is missing, it’s significantly easier for airlines to catch a thief while you’re still at the airport.
And while we know you want to pack gifts or early Christmas presents for the family, airport security warns against packing wrapped gifts in luggage; oftentimes you’ll be asked to unwrap them so TSA can take a look inside.
Pick Travel Times Wisely
You’ll save tons of time and money if you schedule one of your flights on Thanksgiving Day — if you book an early enough flight you may still be able to make it in time for the feast. Or, you can plan to depart a few days early and come home the day after Thanksgiving, spending the bulk of your time with family leading up to the big day.
No matter which day of the week you fly, plan to take the first flight of the day. Getting up early is annoying, but you’ll be more likely to avoid delays and be able to find cheap fights. And make sure to build in extra time for layovers, particularly during the holidays when flights are often cancelled or delayed. Pay close attention to layover times when booking discount airfare; those sites often neglect this minor detail. You may even want to consider using a site that allows you to manually search for specified layover times.