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How to Survive the Thanksgiving Travel Rush

Do your Thanksgiving travel plans include flying? Here’s what to expect, and how to cope.

Airlines for America, the trade group representing the interests of U.S. airlines, today released its forecast for the Thanksgiving travel period, between November 17 and November 28. The big picture: U.S. airlines are expected to carry 28.5 million flyers over the holiday, 3 percent more passengers than last year.

A4A naturally puts the best face on the increase, reassuring travelers that there are plenty of seats available for sale. “Airline passengers continue to benefit from the highly competitive air-service landscape this holiday season, as low fares and increased availability of seats continue to make air travel widely accessible.”

Of course, seat availability isn’t really among travelers’ top worries. More urgent concerns include onboard comfort when planes are packed to capacity, and long lines at airport security checkpoints.

Thanksgiving Travel by the Numbers

The three heaviest travel days, busiest first:

  • Sunday, November 26
  • Wednesday, November 22
  • Friday, November 17

Unsurprisingly, the lightest day will be Thanksgiving day itself, Thursday, November 23.

A4A didn’t provide a predication for the busiest airports during the Thanksgiving holiday period, but the top 10 shouldn’t be much different from last year’s:

  1. Atlanta
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Chicago O’Hare
  4. Dallas-Ft. Worth
  5. New York – Kennedy
  6. Denver
  7. San Francisco
  8. Las Vegas
  9. Charlotte
  10. Phoenix

Surviving the Holiday Crush

On the busier days, planes will be running close to 100 percent full, especially on more popular routes. And security-screening at the busiest airports will be stressed to the breaking point. Travelers for whom comfort is a priority will want to avoid flying on those days, if possible. If you don’t have the luxury of contrarian timing, however, do what you can to eke as much comfort and peace from the flight experience as you can. Some tactics that have proven themselves over the years:

  • Allow plenty of time to get to the airport, especially if you plan to park at an airport lot
  • Book early flights to increase the odds of being accommodated later the same day in the event of a cancellation
  • Travel to/from secondary airports
  • Avoid checking bags if possible
  • To avoid the coach crush, use miles to upgrade or pay extra for premium economy
  • Have phone numbers for your airline, hotel, rental car readily at hand
  • Fully charge your smartphone before leaving home
  • For a respite from the gate crowd, consider buying a day pass to the airline’s airport lounge
  • Sign up for PreCheck for expedited security clearance

None of the above will make holiday flying a breeze. So relax. Expect travel to be stressful. Observe the Golden Rule, and hope that other travelers do the same.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your strategy for stress-free holiday travel?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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