The 2012 Thanksgiving travel race begins
Thanksgiving travelers wait to board their trains at Union Station in Washington DC. (Alex Wong/Getty)
If you’re planning to hit the road – or the skies – this weekend, join the club. According to AAA, a North American motor organization, some 43.6 million Americans are planning to travel during the 2012 US Thanksgiving holiday, with some 90% -- or 39.1 million -- travelling by car and about 3.14 million flying -- a 0.7% increase over 2011. This year also marks the fourth consecutive year of growth since Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008.
Luckily, if you set out with some key tips and tools (a sense of humour wouldn’t hurt either) one of America’s busiest travel times doesn’t also have to be the most tormenting.
If you are driving this weekend, expect company on the roadways and plan accordingly. Thanksgiving travel tends to be highest Wednesdays, when some 45% of travellers depart, and Sunday, when about 36% return. If possible, consider leaving Thursday and returning Saturday or Monday, and plan to start your journey early in the morning or late at night to avoid traffic and save time and stress.
“More travellers mean more cars and more accidents, so make sure you have at least one alternate route planned out that you can take to avoid huge delays,” wrote travel expert Peter Greenberg on his website.
You can also download a few key apps to help avoid traffic altogether. Sigalert, Waze, and INRIX Traffic will help you pick out trouble areas before you’re in the thick of a jam. And as obvious as it sounds, don’t forget to check your oil, brake fluid, coolant and tyre pressure before you take off.
Holiday gridlock also extends to the airports, but luckily a few new TSA rule changes should make the screening process faster and easier. Frequent fliers can enjoy a faster, modified security check, while children under 12 and seniors over 75 can keep their shoes on.
Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, Boston’s Logan International and New York’s JFK International and LaGuardia airports will be among the busiest airports this Thanksgiving, according to Orbitz. Though it may be too late for this year, Orbitz recommends booking in smaller, alternate airports the next time you fly during peak periods – Christmas or New Year’s perhaps?
Before you even get to the airport, ensure the goods in your luggage (carry-on only, to save time and stress!) are TSA-friendly. Bringing gifts? Don’t wrap them – TSA is required to inspect all packages so your pretty paper and tidy bows will be torn to shreds before they get to Aunt Ida. Bringing dessert? Check to see if your pie is considered a liquid or gel. Feel free to bring a bird – turkey is allowed! Use the My TSA app or website to find out what you can pack.
These tips should get you home for the holidays with less stress and time to spare. But we’ve saved the biggest holiday travel secret for last: as US air travel spikes, overseas travel plunges and airlines are desperate to fill seats on these flights. Incredibly, at this time of year a flight from New York to Des Moines, Iowa costs about the same, if not less, than a flight from New York to Paris – about $600. So next year, ditch the dysfunctional family get-together, save some dough and carve your dinde à Paris.