Traveling during the holidays can be even more stressful than usual, but if you follow these tips, you’ll sail through the airport like a pro! Read on for your Thanksgiving air travel playbook.
1. Special Considerations Require Special Planning
If you bought the lowest-priced airline ticket for you and your five family members, you more than likely bought a “basic economy” ticket without seat assignments. While flight attendants always try to seat families together, over the holidays this can become especially tricky when flights are full and other travelers have paid for specific seats. We always recommend buying the seat upgrade to avoid this kind of travel day stress. Most of the time, you can add seat assignments up until the day of travel, even if you didn’t initially purchase them. Honestly, for families with small kids, it’s always a good idea.
A word on pets and emotional support animals. Please don’t show up to the airport with your emotional support dog under one arm and demand that the airline allow you to fly with him or her if you haven’t called to give the airline a heads up. While emotional support animals and other pets are allowed, airlines have a limit to how many animals they can allow on a flight (both in cargo and in the main cabin). The best plan is to let the airline know well in advance that you plan to bring a pet and get their okay. This will avoid any travel-day stress for you or your fur baby.
2. Give Yourself Extra Time to Get to the Airport and Through Security…and then Give Yourself a Little More
There’s no other time of year when giving yourself a generous cushion of time to get from your house to the boarding gate is crucial. Thanksgiving week air travel is one of the busiest travel times of this and every year. In fact, more than 30 million people are expected to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday this year. So, when the airport says to allow an hour to clear security, give yourself two. If you normally call an Uber two hours before your flight leaves, we recommend three.
You may not need it – and goodness knows, time is at a premium these days. But if you go into your air travel day planning to chill at the gate with a good book or podcast, you’ll be less stressed trying to get through security sprinting through the airport concourse.
And airports are not the elaborate waiting rooms they once were. There are plenty of things to keep you busy and entertained in most major airports these days.
3. Pack like a Pro
Nothing is more frustrating for a traveler than allowing plenty of extra time to get through security, but then getting pulled out of line for a bag check because you forgot the rules or rushed while packing.
A few pro tips: Don’t wrap presents if you can help it. Liquids should be 3.4 oz. or less and they should all be placed in a 1 quart plastic bag. Do not bring sharp objects. If you’re traveling with medications, place them in an accessible pocket or right on top, so if you do get flagged for a bag search, the questionable items are handy and won’t require you to reassemble a trashed carry-on.
4. Keep Boarding Pass and I.D. Handy
You’re going to be asked for your boarding pass a few times, so lots of people these days simply download it onto their phones where they can be set under a scanner at security and at boarding. This is our preference, because it eliminates the need to keep track of another document – you can’t lose it if it’s on your phone.
Some people prefer to have a hard copy of the boarding pass in hand instead, so if this sounds like you, don’t forget to print it out before you leave home. Thanksgiving week is not a great time to be printing a boarding pass at check-in, though most airports now have self-service kiosks meant to keep things moving.
5. Keep the Weather Top of Mind
If you are traveling to or from an airport with frequent bad weather, or are connecting in a city with such an airport, it’s a good idea to either have a backup plan. Such airports tend to suffer from flight delays and sometimes even cancellations during the busy holiday season.
In an ideal world, everyone gets to their chosen Thanksgiving destinations on time but the holidays are notoriously a time in which flights do get delayed.
If you happen to live in a city that experiences frequent flight delays over the holidays, one pro tip is to book one of the first flights out on any given day. Statistically, the earliest flights of the day are those that leave on time most frequently.
6. A Few Thoughts on Baggage
These days, baggage considerations are a not insignificant part of air travel planning. A lot of people prefer to skip checked bags to avoid the extra cost, to avoid risk of lost luggage and just to help get you through the airport more quickly. If you can do it, great!
What you want to avoid is last minute adding a checked bag or two without having the additional costs in mind. Just make sure to check the airline’s baggage policy to assure you’re not going to incur additional unplanned costs at check-in. They can sometimes be significant, depending on the airline. The low-cost airlines like Spirit and Frontier charge the most for any baggage additions at the airport on the day of travel.
And a word to the wise if you do travel on a low-cost carrier. They are very strict about the size and weight restrictions for carry-on bags, as well as extra bags. The days of sneaking on an extra bag of presents or two, your laptop plus a purse are over. Most low-cost airlines allow one “personal item” and one carry-on, period. Just familiarize yourself with the policy in advance, so you don’t have any unpleasant baggage surprises on your flight day.
7. Start Thinking About Next Year Now
Thanksgiving 2020? Seriously? Well, just a little bit. We would like to remind travelers about the best days to fly, which tend to stay the same year over year and can be found on our Holiday Flights page. Thanksgiving Day itself offers less busy airports, so if you really hate crowds and have a short flight, it’s always worth checking out what the fares look like on Turkey Day.
Also, if you find that weather delays stymie you most years, it might be time to reevaluate your travel planning. Can you splurge a little extra, and avoid that connecting flight that grounded you in Detroit two years in a row? Can you fly to somewhere nearish your destination and drive the last couple of hours to avoid bad weather delays?
8. Keep Your Cool
…Finally, know that everyone at the airline is doing their best to move many people around the country. When weather delays especially cause delays, there is only so much that an individual gate agent from Delta can do about it. We like to remind travelers (ourselves included), that these frustrating situations are also frustrating for the airlines. We can recommend reaching out via Twitter customer service and/or the airline or booking agency’s customer support team. The CheapAir customer support team are available 24/7 and based in the U.S. We can help you troubleshoot with the airline and come up with a backup plan in some cases.
Thanks for reading the 2019 CheapAir Thanksgiving travel tips. Take our advice and you’ll be living your best Thanksgiving travel life before you know it. Happy Holidays!