Also, don’t stand up as soon as the plane lands. But that’s a rant for another day.
Breezing through security
You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again. One of the most important things you can do is get to the airport early. The TSA is still facing staffing shortages. Those shortages resulted in long lines and missed flights at JFK on July 4. Meanwhile, the agency is screening record numbers of passengers. Throw in the possibility of foul weather, traffic, and the occasional disruptive passenger, and you have all the makings of a holiday hellscape.
If you’re bringing gifts through a screening point, ensure they’re unwrapped. If not, you might need to unwrap them for TSA agents. If possible, ship gifts ahead and save room in your carry-on for essentials, such as 3.4 ounces of booze-free eggnog. Or plan to wrap them when you reach your destination. If your wrapped gifts are in checked bags, you’ll be fine.
You can bring food through TSA checkpoints. Well, some food. Candy, cookies, solid cheeses, and solid chocolates are all OK. Sadly, this means fruitcake can go through a TSA checkpoint. If the food is soft or liquid, leave it at home or put it in your checked bag. Eggs are allowed in your carry-on. (Good luck with that!) Strangely, you are allowed to bring live lobsters through TSA screening points. Let’s hope this doesn’t lead to a new trend of emotional support lobsters.
Before we step away from the TSA, remember that TSA PreCheck will almost always save you time. It costs $78 for five years. Did I mention you should get to the airport early?
Time to book flights
If you haven’t booked your Thanksgiving or Christmas flights yet, you’ve missed the airfare sweet spot — that was the first week of October. According to CheapAir.com, airfare is running 12 percent higher than in 2022. CheapAir’s site tracks 11,000 airfares through November and December. Currently, Nov. 17 and 26 and Dec. 22, 23, and 26 are the priciest days to travel. If you can, consider flying on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day.
This year will also be particularly challenging as airlines continue to cut routes. Both United Airlines and JetBlue have dropped routes. Another bit of Grinchly news: the US has a shortage of air traffic controllers. Start booking flights, rental cars, hotel rooms, or anything else you require now. Last-minute deals on holiday flights are a myth. Occasionally, there will be a rare holiday deal, but in the current world of fully booked flights, finding a last-minute bargain is as rare as finding a sober Santa at the mall.
In case things go wrong
The mantra for holiday travel is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. After you purchase tickets for your flight, start researching your airline’s policies and find out what you’re entitled to in case things go wrong.
The best place to start is the Department of Transportation’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard (www.transportation.gov). Here, you’ll learn that every major US airline, except Frontier, offers complimentary hotel accommodations for passengers affected by an overnight cancellation caused by a controllable delay or cancelation. Every airline has a policy that entitles passengers to a meal or meal voucher when a controllable cancellation results in a wait of three hours or more for a new flight.
There’s a giant asterisk to all of this, and that’s the phrase “controllable delays or cancellation.” The airlines only offer these benefits when the delays and cancellations are within their control. Those include aircraft maintenance, crew scheduling, and aircraft preparation, such as fueling and cleaning.
“Uncontrollable delays or cancellations” are things the airline cannot control, such as weather, air traffic, and security-related events.
All airlines also offer passengers the ability to rebook for no fee if their flight is canceled or delayed. Be warned: If you rebook your flight with the same airline, you cannot receive a refund for a cancellation.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are entitled to a full refund if the airline cancels your flight, regardless of the reason. That refund includes any incidentals you paid for, such as choosing a seat or checking a bag. Check the DOT dashboard and also your airline’s contract of carriage. It’s best to arm yourself with this information before your trip.
If you’re particularly concerned, purchase travel insurance. Depending on your coverage plan, travel insurance will cost roughly 6 percent of your total trip.
Now, get your lobster ready for the TSA checkpoint, plaster a smile on your face, and keep your fingers crossed that your airline doesn’t send any irksome notifications on the day of your flight.
Traveling by car
You don’t need a degree from the International Correspondence School to know the best and worst times to travel to your holiday celebration by car. According to Google Maps’ insights, the nastiest Thanksgiving traffic occurs on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, typically around 4 to 5 p.m. This is the time when Thanksgiving travelers mingle with rush-hour traffic. Every year, AAA dispenses the same warning. The best time to leave for Thanksgiving is 8 p.m. Monday. Avoid coming driving back on Saturday or Sunday if possible.
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