8 tips for those who absolutely, positively must fly Thanksgiving week

by Janice Hough on November 20, 2012

Since this post is being written a few days before Thanksgiving, it’s too late for suggestions about how to book flights. Anyone who hasn’t booked already, probably isn’t going anywhere.

For those who have plans involving air travel, here are a few last minute tips.

1. Get there early. Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s not just that planes will be full — they’re almost always full these days anyway — but it’s amateur week.

This means people who don’t regularly fly will be dealing with kiosks, TSA and the boarding process. ‘Nuff said.

2. Make a parking reservation. If you have a preferred airport parking lot, or even if you don’t, consider making reservations. At San Francisco, my usual airport, I’ve noticed rates going straight up at most lots, an indication that business is good. I’ve dealt with nearly full lots this year, even when it wasn’t holiday season. (For example, lots that normally allow self-parking are doing valet only, so they could double park cars.)

3. Consider bringing your own food. It’s not just that the lines will be long at airport restaurants, but around the holidays, in my experience, onboard food is more likely to sell out. This is partly because of all the families traveling (who wants to deal with a hungry child?) and partly because less experienced travelers are less likely to think ahead and have to buy at the airport.

4. Have a backup plan. Okay, if a flight is delayed or canceled, alternatives are going to be tough. It never hurts to be prepared by knowing the next flight or onward connection. You at least know what to ask/beg for if you need to change.

5. Bring chargers for your phone and laptop. A battery charger if you have one, can come in handy. Make sure your phone is fully charged when leaving home. If there are problems at any airport, there will be plenty of competition for outlets. Plus, you really don’t want to lose power while on hold, or trying to get online to fix a problem.

6. Consider low-tech entertainment, like puzzles, newspapers or gasp, a real book. I’ve noticed airlines increasingly closing the aircraft door well before they push back, in one recent case while the cargo door was open. During busy times, the pilot will want to be ready to go as soon as they get clearance so as not to lose a slot. This may mean a significant chunk of time without an iPad, Kindle, or even phone in airplane mode.

7. Check in online and double-check seat assignments. For starters, online check-in makes a reservation less likely to be canceled if you’re delayed in getting to the airport. And, as most frequent flyers have learned to their chagrin, seat assignments these days can disappear.

Airlines can’t always fix their computer messes in advance, but there’s a better chance if it’s the day before. Otherwise, if there’s a problem, and you don’t discover until the day of departure that your carefully chosen seats are gone, then you’re in the pool with families with young children and a whole lot of other cranky people.

8. Try to bring a sense of humor. People watching at airports is usually particularly good around the holidays. If you’re dreading seeing your relatives, you can almost always spot families who’ll make you think, “It could be worse.”

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