For many, this Thanksgiving will be the first significant holiday gathering since 2019. Unlike last year, travel experts expect the airports and roads to be packed. Consider implementing these travel tips to avoid stress and travel interruptions as you finalize your Thanksgiving travel plans.
1. Arrive At The Airport Early
While passenger air travel volumes are still below the pre-pandemic levels, AAA Travel predicts 53 million Americans will travel by air (4.2 million) or car (48.3 million) to dine with friends and family. That’s only 5% below the 2019 Thanksgiving travel volume.
Flying at Thanksgiving is always hectic due to the short travel window and the threat of early winter weather travel delays.
It’s best to arrive at least two hours before your flight (3 hours for international flights), so you have plenty of time to pass through airport security.
Note that social distancing restrictions also limit shuttle capacity if you’re relying on airport transportation to get you from a parking lot to the check-in lines.
Expedited airport security credentials like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or CLEAR can help you get through airport security quicker. However, recent reports have shown that even these services have long queues that are causing delays. To skip the standard line, make sure your boarding pass displays your certification.
In addition to the influx of passengers, the potential for longer airport security lines compounds as the TSA is short-staffed at many airports. The staffing issue applies to PreCheck and CLEAR lines and potentially airline service desks too.
Taking it a step further, you can monitor current wait times with the My TSA Mobile Application. The app is free and can supplement checking social media alerts from your departure airport.
It’s also a good idea to build extra time into your layover just in case you run into hiccups on your first flight.
2. Use Gas Price Apps If You’re Driving
Many Americans are feeling the pain at the gas pump as prices are at their highest levels in several years. Thankfully, there are several ways to save money at gas stations. It can be worth downloading a gas price tracking app like GasBuddy, Waze or AAA Trip Planner to check prices down the road.
These apps are free, but upgrading to the premium version may help you get additional discounts. The app may offer extra features like navigation and real-time traffic reports.
Paying with a credit card that awards bonus points on gas station purchases is another way to save once you spot the cheapest gas near you.
3. Pack Your Meals And Extra Snacks
Consider bringing your meals and snacks instead of relying on restaurants along the highway or in airport terminals. Be mindful of the TSA and airport carry-on guidelines for food and beverages. Many industries, including restaurants, are struggling to remain fully staffed. As a result, wait times can be longer than usual, and some establishments may even close early.
Packing extra food can help you avoid surprises if you need to visit several restaurants before finding a service.
If you’re on a tight schedule, this potential detour can delay your travel progress. And, if you’re also in a rush to catch your flight, you may need to skip the food court and rely on the in-flight food and beverages instead.
If your travel budget is also a little leaner than usual because of the pandemic, bringing your food is also an easy way to save money. Plus, you know what you’re eating and drinking instead of potentially settling with a less desirable meal if your favorite restaurant isn’t available.
4. Bring Extra Personal Protective Equipment
It’s a federal law that any traveler age two or older wear a mask while on commercial travel vehicles and in transit hubs. Airplanes, trains, buses, airport terminals and train stations fall under the TSA mask mandate. As you might be traveling for hours and are also away from home, don’t forget to pack extra masks and personal protective equipment (PPE).
You might get free PPE at security checkpoints, but other locations may have you purchase items from a vending machine. In either instance, you may not get the things with the best fit or protection that you prefer.
Many people consider N95 and KN95 masks to be the most effective. Another reason to pack multiple masks is that you should change them several times on long travel days, and a general guideline is to swap your mask every 4-6 hours.
The TSA now allows passengers to pack a single 12-ounce bottle of liquid hand sanitizer in their carry-on luggage. However, the normal 3.4-ounce limits apply to your other liquids. Be sure to label your liquids and sanitizer properly. You can also expect the TSA agent to spend extra time inspecting your liquid sanitizer.
Disinfecting wipes can also be valuable in public spaces as you don’t know who’s sat there before and the last time it’s been cleaned. You can also carry on wipes if you fly.
In addition to these 3 PPE essentials, you can also follow the CDC travel guidelines. It’s also a good idea to check the local and state guidelines for your destination.
5. Travel On Non-Peak Days
As more people can work remotely, it might be easier to arrive early or stay late if you have sufficient working conditions, like reliable internet and a work desk.
Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving can be the busiest time to fly or drive.
Highway traffic for Thanksgiving Day may also be hectic for people traveling nearby as last-minute travelers rush to make a mid-afternoon meal.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving may also have above-average congestion on the roads and at the airport for people coming home from a long weekend.
Depending on your schedule, you might be able to travel a few days early or stay longer to avoid the busiest Thanksgiving travel days. For example, you might try to arrive on Monday or Tuesday instead. Or, maybe you can go home on Monday instead once the workweek is back.
Booking your non-refundable travel itineraries with a rewards credit card with trip cancellation and interruption coverage can reimburse incidental expenses.
You might also consider buying travel insurance if you want peace of mind for an expensive trip.
This Thanksgiving is going to be the first “real” holiday since the pandemic began. Follow these Thanksgiving travel tips for a smooth journey before you gather around and share family memories or celebrate life’s blessings.