In 2017, I was one of the 50-million-plus people in the United States traveling to be with family during the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s the busiest time of the year in airports all over the country—but with planning and pluck it’s possible to manage the stress and strife that comes with air travel.
In short: Be aware of the days and times when more people take to the skies. Pack light. Find out what you need to avoid long lines. And be tech savvy—there are an abundance of apps available that an make your trip a little less headache-free.
Thanksgiving air travel days
Last year, my family of four made it across the country and back in peaceful harmony with fellow fliers—and each other—by picking the least busiest days to fly. For a round-trip from San Diego to Baltimore we left on the Monday before Thanksgiving and returned on the Friday after.
The worst days (when flights are the fullest and most expensive) are the Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday and the Saturday and Sunday afterward. Thanksgiving Thursday—while inconvenient for some—is actually a very good day for low traffic at the airport.
Sometimes there’s no getting around where you have to fly into. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is the most convenient for me. However, I did check flights into Washington Dulles International Airport. Always do your research.
Our Monday flight from San Diego made a stop in Chicago. There weren’t any non-stops available. Flying into a cold weather city in November can open up a risk of hitting delays due to bad weather, but there was no getting around this.
On the way home on Friday, we made a quick hop from Baltimore to Newark Liberty International Airport, then had smooth sailing for the cross-country flight back to Southern California.
Save yourself time, money and the hassles of baggage claim by packing light and using carry-on bags. Invest in an overhead-bin-sized roller bag; the best ones have wheels that rotate 360 degrees. Even if you just fill up a backpack and bring along one other personal item you’ll get out of the airport ahead of fellow passengers who check bags.
Note: If you’re heading from warm weather climes to a more frigid location, carry your heavy coat onto the plane. Don’t use up precious carry-on bag space with a bulky parka.
And if you plan to bring a big gift basket to the family feast, ship it ahead of time—especially if it’s filled with foodstuffs that might not be allowed on the plane.
Avoid security lines
The Transportation Security Administration provides the option of getting TSA Pre-Check status. It starts with an online application and requires a brief in-person interview at an enrollment center.
Once your background check is approved, you receive a Known Traveler Number. According to the TSA, 93 percent of flyers with Pre-Check wait less than five minutes at airport security.
There are a plethora of travel apps out there for your smartphone. First and foremost, every airline has an app, and those are the best places to hear about flight status, as well as future deals on airfares.
Another good travel app to download is Hopper. I’m using it to keep an eye on prices of future holiday flights. Hopper also has a lot of useful planning information, including updates on the length of check-in and security lines at the 25 busiest airports in the country.
A handy app that started up in 2018 is the food-delivery-service AtYourGate. It allows you to sit down at your gate and have a variety of restaurant offerings brought to you. Brand ambassadors have been known to make deliveries right onto the plane. Currently available in San Diego and Newark, there are plans to expand to other major hubs before the end of the year.