How to Survive Thanksgiving's Busiest Travel Days

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 18 and November 29. The big picture: U.S. airlines are expected to carry 27.3 million flyers over the holiday, 2.5 percent more passengers than last year.

A4A is quick to reassure travelers that there are plenty of seats available for sale. "Airlines are adding capacity to accommodate the increased demand, and travelers should rest assured that while more people will be flying, there will be more than an adequate number of seats available."

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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 27
  • Monday, November 28
  • Wednesday, November 23

Unsurprisingly, the lightest day will be Thanksgiving day itself, Thursday, November 24.

A4A also called out the busiest airports. The projected top 10:

  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

No surprises there, either.

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?

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Read the original story: How to Survive Thanksgiving's Busiest Travel Days by Tim Winship, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

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