[My story about Thanksgiving travel first appeared on Today.com]
Whether your family will make its way over rivers and through woods or race across town to catch a plane, traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday can be hectic and stressful.
That will certainly be the case this year, as a record 28.5 million holiday travelers are expected to fly on U.S. airlines, an increase of 3 percent over Thanksgiving 2016, according to airline trade group Airlines for America.
A4A pegs the increase to a strong economy and low airfares. But while airlines are adding seats to accommodate the spike in demand, crowded airports, full airplanes and bad weather can easily turn the holiday weekend into a travel turkey.
The data teams at Google Flights and Reward Expert confirm that the busiest days to fly over this holiday will be (no surprise) Friday, November 17 and Wednesday, November 22 – before the official holiday – and Sunday, November 26, when everyone tries to make their way home.
Google Flights expects airports in 10 cities – New York City, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Honolulu – to be the busiest this holiday, while Reward Expert crunched Department of Transportation data from the past five years to predict which airports might give Thanksgiving travelers the most problems this year.
While the Honolulu, Atlanta, Charlotte Douglas, Southwest Florida and Salt Lake City airports had the best on-time performance during Thanksgiving over the past five years, if you’re traveling through Sacramento, Houston Hobby, Oakland, Newark Liberty or San Francisco airports this year, the statistics says you’re likely to encounter delays.
Here are some tips that might make traveling during this holiday a bit smoother.
- Breeze through airport security
Some airport websites now have tools that report wait times at their security checkpoints, but assume lines will be longer than usual. Your best defense: get a good night’s rest and head for the airport extra early.
And keep in mind: If you haven’t yet signed up for TSA PreCheck you may still have access to some form of expedited lanes screening if you are 75 or older, 12 years or younger, in the military or a disability or medical condition.
- Pack for success
Thanksgiving is more about family (and eating) than showing off the latest fashions, so lighten up what you bring along and try traveling with just a carry-on.
Flying with food? Turkey (cooked or frozen) is permitted in carry-on and checked bags but check with your airline if brining a live turkey. Cakes, pies, bread, fruits and vegetables are also permitted in carry-ons, but gravy (a liquid) is not. TSA’s “Can I bring..?” tool can offer advice on other items you may want to bring along.
- Bring an emergency kit
Flares aren’t necessary (or allowed) in your carry-on bag, but a kit with some emergency supplies in case of a delay are advised.
Bring snacks (good options include fresh or dried fruit, nuts, energy bars and sandwiches), a refillable water bottle, charged gadgets and rechargers, books and magazines, toys for your kids and a print-out of the reservation information and phone numbers for your airline, car rental company, hotel and the friends or family members who have volunteered to pick you up.
Stash some “mad money.” If a delay gets especially infuriating you can use that cash to buy you and your traveling companions a massage, a fancy cocktail, chocolate or some other frivolous, stress-busting treat.
- Delights in the delays
Most people would rather get to their holiday destinations as soon as possible. But those who end up spending extra time waiting for their flights will find many airports offering holiday entertainment and many airport restaurants serving special Thanksgiving-themed dishes and full meals. And in dozens of airports there will be teams of therapy dogs and their trainers on duty to help calm jittery nerves.
(A slightly different version of my story below first appeared on CNBC)
The bizarre election season is over and now Thanksgiving and the more-hectic-than-usual holiday travel season is kicking into gear.
But although Airline for American reports U.S. airlines will carry 27.3 million passengers over the 12-day Thanksgiving holiday travel period (Nov 18-Nov 29) – up 2.5 percent over last year – reasonable (though not cheap) fares and getaways may still be possible.
“Most searches will be done on the 11th and 12th, but most people will commit on the 13th, after thoroughly looking and comparing the previous prices offered,” said CheapOair’s travel expert Tom Spagnola.
Many airlines look at their inventory capacity with a 10-to-14-day window to determine when to lower fares for last minute shoppers, he said, “making the 13th the ‘tipping point’ for those committing to a Thanksgiving trip.”
Where to go?
Travel analysts from Expedia report that New York City and Las Vegas top the list of holiday destinations this year.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade draws 3.5 million to New York City each year, but you can avoid the crowds and still see the giant character balloons by watching the balloon inflation the day before the parade (November 23) in the streets around the American Museum of Natural History.
“The inflation takes place from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” says NYC & Company, “though earlier in the afternoon is the best time to see the inflation process as by about 9 p.m., most of the balloons should be fully inflated.”
In Sin City, you can escape the casino and nightclub scene for a while at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, where the 4,200-square-foot Boulevard Pool overlooking The Strip transforms into an ice rink on November 21, complete with fire pit, s’mores and cocktails.
Those seeking healing R&R during the Thanksgiving week might also consider destinations like the northern New Mexico town of Taos, which is home to spas offering everything from massages and facials to hot baths and mud soaks — and most all are open during Thanksgiving weekend.
Another place to head to if you want to avoid the holiday crowds is the Texas Hill Country River Region, where you can book a cabin near the site of the largest tree in Texas, and where fall foliage hikes through Garner State Park are an option straight through December.
For a more upscale escape, the Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole in Wyoming offers guests stargazing excursions and customized, four-hour luxury SUV wildlife expeditions (with food) in Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge, home to more than 5,000 elk.
And while others may be heading to the malls on the day after Thanksgiving, if you’re in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you can avoid the crowds and relax with fresh cider and microbrews from more than two dozen of the Midwest’s craft breweries at the Black Friday Beerfest at the Harley-Davidson Museum.
During Thanksgiving week (Nov. 23 – 27), military personnel are invited to eat free in participating airport restaurants across the country operated by Paradies Lagardère (formerly Paradies) as part of its “Treat Our Troops” program.
Active and retired military personnel can show their military I.D. cards when ordering or checking out to receive a complimentary menu item and beverage at these restaurants:
• Sweet Auburn Market – Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
• Blue Ridge Tavern – Asheville Regional Airport
• 4th Street Vine, McKenna’s on the Fly and the Long Beach Marche – Long Beach Airport
• Bar Symon – Pittsburgh International Airport
• Big Bowl, Magic Pan and Say Si Bon! – Denver International Airport
• Jammin’ Java, Smokewood American Grill and Say Si Bon! – Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport
• Say Si Bon! – Reagan Washington National Airport
Thanksgiving is also being celebrated at Washington’s Dulles and Regan airports with a “Turkey in the Terminal” promotion.
At Dulles International Airport, six restaurants are participating in the promotion, including Bar Symon, which is offering a Gobbler Burger; Cosi, which is serving Turkey Chili; and the District Chophouse and Brewery, which is featuring a Smoked Turkey Club.
At Regan National Airport, four restaurants are featuring turkey-themed dishes, including Ben’s Chili Bowl, which is offering a Jumbo Turkey Dog.
Through Nov. 30, both airports are sharing a juicy turkey recipe from Chef Symon.
— Dulles Food & Shops (@IADFoodandShops) November 16, 2015