Outlook for Thanksgiving Flights: Full

We've been keeping a close eye on Thanksgiving travel, paying particular attention to demand (falling, due to the worsening recession) and ticket prices (also falling, reflecting the softening demand).

The Air Transport Association (ATA), a trade group representing the airlines, has released its projections for Thanksgiving flights, giving us a glimpse of holiday travel from a slightly different perspective: the passenger's.

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Picture this: full flights. During the three busiest days—Sunday, November 30; Monday, December 1; and Wednesday, November 26—planes will fly 90 percent full on average. And, warns ATA President and CEO James C. May, "Make no mistake—the airports will be busy and many flights will be 100 percent full."

Whether the plane is 90 or 100 percent full, holiday flyers should be prepared for long lines at security check points and at boarding gates. The ATA recommends that holiday travelers "Allow plenty of time for checking in and for security screening at the airport, and to familiarize themselves with the list of TSA permitted and prohibited items and under what circumstance permitted items may be carried onboard."

As for the claustrophobia associated with a middle seat on a long flight, well, there isn't much you can do to mitigate the discomfort except to remember to fully charge your iPod before heading for the airport.

On the other hand, with the airlines' recent flight cuts, the air traffic control system will be less stressed, so flight delays should be less of an issue than in past years. Still, the ATA suggests that travelers sign up with their airline to receive automated travel notifications delivered to their cell phone or wireless device. Or, for a lower-tech approach, flyers can call the airline's toll-free number to check the status of their flights. Whether on time or delayed, they'll be full.

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