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Your Guide To Stress-Free Thanksgiving 2023 Air Travel

While warnings about chaotic holiday travel are nothing new, 2023 is gearing up to be a record-breaking year for Thanksgiving air travel. As with any holiday travel, FlightChic advises packing your patience. Review this helpful guide for specific information from airlines, airports, and the TSA.

Thanksgiving air travel brings families together, but requires some planning.

AAA expects 55.5 million travelers this Thanksgiving, of which 4.7 million will fly. According to Deloitte, 48% of Americans will be traveling this holiday season (up 2.3% from last year), with the highest number of travelers expected in the week between Christmas and New Year.

AAA Airfares Data: It’s Cheaper to Go Abroad for Thanksgiving

Those who spend their Thanksgiving abroad are most likely to enjoy a flight deal, according to AAA.

  • The average price for a domestic flight is $681, up 5% from 2022.
  • The average price for an international flight is $1,231, down 5.7% from last year.

British Airways offers a special in-flight menu for Thanksgiving.

American Airlines Operations: Ready For Thanksgiving Rush

American Airlines expects a record-breaking number of customers during Thanksgiving travel, serving 7.8 million from November 16-28. The airline feels up to the challenge, having run the most reliable operation among U.S. network carriers for the past 14 months.

American Airlines Thanksgiving
American Airlines
  • American has 70,000 scheduled flights operating during the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • November 26 will be the busiest travel day with 6,1000 departures. November 27 is the second busiest, with just under 6,000 departures.

Strong operational performance

Heading into the holiday season, American Airlines has been performing exceptionally well. Despite severe weather and disruptions during the summer, American Airlines recovered faster than its competitors. This allowed them to minimize the impact on their customers and maintain a high completion factor and on-time departures compared to other major network competitors.

Leaning into operational technology

American Airlines has implemented decision-support and machine-learning tools to improve its operation and provide a better experience for customers. These tools, such as the Hub Efficiency Analytics Tool (HEAT) and smart gating, help the airline adjust its operations during severe weather conditions and reduce taxi times at its major hubs.

American Airlines Thanksgiving Travel Tips

  1. Use the American Airlines App to check in and manage your trip.
  2. International travelers should join the US Global Entry Program and download the US Customs and Border Protection Mobile Passport Control app.
  3. Arrive at the airport in time to clear security. 1.5 hours if traveling within the U.S. and 2 hours for international travel.
  4. Join AAdvantage to get added travel benefits.

Alaska Airlines’ Travel Top Tips for Thanksgiving Travel

Alaska Airlines

Thanksgiving is approaching, which means a surge in holiday travel. Alaska Airlines offers helpful tips for a smooth trip during this busy season. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport expects 11% higher foot traffic. At the same time, there is ongoing construction as part of improvement projects.

  • Use the SEA Spot Saver service to reduce stress at the security checkpoint.
  • The Alaska Airlines mobile app allows guests to check in, get a boarding pass, and manage their trip. The airline recommends pre-ordering meals. The winter menu offers a variety of tasty options.
  • Be sure to arrive at the airport early due to potential congestion and limited parking. Alaska recommends 2 hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.
  • Use convenient Bag Tag Stations to pay for and tag bags.
  • Alaska Mileage Plan members can set up communication preferences and request special assistance.

Delta Is Set For A Busy Thanksgiving

Passenger in terminal. Delta Airlines

Delta is prepared to carry more than 6 million passengers during the Thanksgiving travel. The airline estimates 6.2 million to 6.4 million customers from November 17th to November 28th, averaging 515,000 to 530,000 customers per day.

Delta understands the importance of the holiday and aims to ensure on-time and safe travel for customers. It advises passengers to arrive at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights.

Expect longer wait times on November 17th and the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving. Delta’s Operations and Customer Center serves as the airline’s control center, managing over 4,000 flights daily. The center monitors weather conditions and collaborates with experts to adjust flight plans accordingly. Delta also works closely with the FAA and other departments to ensure efficient operations and provide quick resolutions for customers. The airline offers tips in their Customer Guide to Traveling with Delta to enhance the travel experience.

Download or Update the Fly Delta App

Delta’s digital tools offer convenient options for making changes to your itinerary. These tools can be accessed through the Fly Delta app or on delta.com. The app provides real-time updates and allows customers to make changes on the go. Important information such as boarding details, upgrade status, and baggage location can be found in the “Today” tab of the app. To stay informed, customers should log in with their SkyMiles membership and mobile number, enable Fly Delta notifications, and check for updates via email or text messages. If you plan to visit a Delta Sky Club, you can use the app to find nearby Clubs or partner lounges and check their occupancy levels.

Pack Thoughtfully

Remove any items you need on the plane, such as phones or medication, from your checked baggage. Lithium batteries are not allowed in checked bags. Additionally, be aware of the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule and ensure that any liquids are properly sized and packed in a quart-size bag in your carry-on. If you are checking bags, use the self-tagging kiosks at Delta’s airport lobbies to expedite check-in.

Arrive at the Airport Early

Due to the expected increase in holiday travelers, customers are advised to arrive at the airport three hours before their flight. Delta, TSA, and other partners will be making additional efforts to handle the higher volume, but passengers should anticipate longer wait times for security checks and baggage handling.

United’s Tech Innovations Help Travelers Save Time During Record-Setting Thanksgiving Travel Season

United Airlines

United Airlines is preparing for a busy Thanksgiving travel season, with an estimated 5.9 million passengers between November 17-29. The airline’s customer experience team has been working on innovative solutions to improve the travel experience, including features in their mobile app to help travelers skip lines, expedite security checks, make connections, and enhance overall satisfaction.

The United mobile app is popular among customers, with nearly three-quarters using it to access personalized services, skip lines, and stay updated with travel information. Throughout the year, United has introduced numerous innovations to its mobile app, airports, and aircraft, aiming to provide transparency, save time, and reduce travel stress.

1-2-3 Pre-Flight Preparation

United Airlines offers several customer-friendly features to enhance the travel experience.

1. United offers free family seating, allowing children under 12 to be seated next to an adult in their party at the time of booking. Since its announcement earlier this year, United has assisted over 200,000 families in booking seats together for free.

2. United’s “bag drop shortcut” eases travel for customers who check in on the United app. This service lets them skip the check-in line and drop off their checked-in bags curbside or at a dedicated location in the airport lobby. On average, customers can complete the bag drop process in just one minute.

3. United offers the convenience of pre-ordering meals and snacks. Customers can select their preferred food and beverage options up to 24 hours before departure, ensuring they get their first choice while on board. They receive automatic notifications about the availability of pre-ordering five days before their flight and can make their selections through the United mobile app or united.com.

Time-Saving Tools for Day-Of Travel

United Airlines offers several features and technologies to enhance the travel experience for its customers:

  • Airport Wayfinding: United’s Terminal Guide in the United app provides personalized instructions to navigate airports, helping customers find their way easily and confidently.
  • Automatic, Personalized Flight Notifications: United is the first and only US airline to support Live Activities for iPhone. Customers can access real-time flight information, including boarding pass, gate and seat number, and countdown clock, directly on their lock screen or within the Dynamic Island without opening the app. Android users can also view real-time flight updates on their lock screens.
  • Stress-free Connections: United’s ConnectionSaver technology scans flights to identify customers with tight connections. It automatically determines if a connecting flight can be held without inconveniencing others, benefiting over 600,000 customers this year and saving more than 2 million connections since its launch in 2019.
  • More Efficient Boarding Process: United has introduced the ‘WILMA’ boarding system, which stands for window-middle-aisle. This system optimizes the boarding process, saving up to two minutes per departure and saving customers valuable time during their travels.

Customer Service Support: United’s app becomes a traveler’s concierge

United Airlines has introduced new features on its mobile app that automatically assist customers during flight disruptions. This includes personalized re-booking options, bag tracking information, and meal and hotel vouchers. Customers no longer need to wait in line at the airport or contact the customer center for these services. Since the announcement of these features in June, customers have responded positively to having alternate travel options offered to them directly on the app.

Additionally, United Airlines is the only airline that offers “Agent on Demand.” It lets customers connect with a customer service representative through video chat, text, or call using the United app. Over 1.5 million customers have used it this year for real-time flight information, upgrades, seat assignments, and assistance. Agent on Demand is available at all airports served by United Airlines.

Accessible Travel for Everyone

United Airlines has implemented accessible solutions to enhance the flying experience for all customers. These solutions include updates to their mobile app, making it easier for people with visual disabilities to navigate. The app now integrates better with screen reader technologies like VoiceOver and TalkBack. Additionally, United offers resources to assist travelers with cognitive or invisible disabilities in planning their trips, navigating airports, and ensuring a seamless onboard experience. Customers can also reach out to the United Accessibility Desk for assistance.

Onboard accessibility improvements

United Airlines is making significant enhancements to improve the travel experience for disabled passengers. As part of their United Next growth plan, they are installing new seatback entertainment screens on all their aircraft, equipped with various accessible features such as closed captioning, text-to-speech controls, magnification, explore-by-touch capabilities, audio-described movies, and adjustable and high-contrast text and color options.

They are also adding Braille to their aircraft interiors to assist visually impaired travelers in independently navigating the cabin. This includes tactile signage for row numbers, seat assignments, and lavatory locations. These improvements will be implemented across their mainline fleet by the end of 2026.

Furthermore, United Airlines offers free check-in for personal wheelchairs and other mobility devices, with passengers able to provide their specifications and packing instructions in advance through their app or website. For more information on traveling with United, especially during the holiday season, please visit their website at united.com.

TSA Guidance For Smooth Thanksgiving Travel

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects the busiest holiday travel season ever, with a record number of passengers screened at airport security checkpoints. The Thanksgiving travel period, which starts on November 17th and ends on November 28th, is projected to see around 30 million passengers.

The busiest days are anticipated to be the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after. TSA expects to screen over 2.6 million passengers on November 21st, over 2.7 million passengers on November 22nd, and over 2.9 million passengers on November 26th.

TSA’s Top Traveler Tips Before Heading for the Airport:

1. Pack smart: What to do with Gravy and Cake

Passengers should avoid bringing prohibited items through airport security checkpoints. Certain foods like gravy, cranberry sauce, wine, jam, and preserves are considered liquids or gels and must be packed in checked bags. Solid foods such as cakes and baked goods are allowed through the TSA checkpoint. Passengers can check for prohibited items using the “What Can I Bring?” page on the TSA website or by contacting @AskTSA.

2. Bring the Right ID

Before heading to the airport, travelers must bring acceptable identification and have it ready at the security screening lane. At some checkpoints, travelers may be asked to insert their physical ID into a Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) unit for verification. The CAT-2, the second generation of CAT, is deployed at 25 airports. It includes a camera and smartphone reader to compare the traveler’s ID photo with a real-time photo taken at the podium. Once the CAT-2 confirms the match, the TSO verifies and directs the traveler for appropriate security screening without ever exchanging a boarding pass. Photographic capture participation is voluntary, and passengers can choose manual identity verification instead. For more information on how TSA uses facial recognition technology, visit https://www.tsa.gov/news/press/factsheets/facial-recognition-technology.

3. Arrive Early

Additionally, due to the expected busy airport conditions, it is advised to arrive two hours before the scheduled flight. This will allow enough time for parking, public transit or rideshare arrival, checking bags, security screening, and reaching the gate.

4. Follow Procedures for Firearms

If you plan to travel with a firearm, pack it properly in a locked, hard-sided case in your checked bag. It is not allowed to bring firearms in carry-on luggage or to the airport security checkpoint and onboard aircraft. Bringing a firearm to a TSA checkpoint can result in a civil penalty of up to $15,000 and the loss of TSA PreCheck eligibility for up to five years. For more information on transporting firearms, visit www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition

5. Get Familiar with New Checkpoint Screening Technology

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses various security methods and technologies to ensure the safety of transportation systems. Screening procedures may differ between airports based on available technology and the current threat level. Some airports have implemented advanced Computed Tomography (CT) scanners, which greatly enhance the detection of potential threats in carry-on bags and reduce the need for physical searches. CT scanners generate 3D images of passengers’ bags, eliminating the requirement for passengers to remove their 3-1-1 liquids or laptops in security lanes equipped with CT units. However, all travelers must still place their carry-on items, including bags, into a bin for screening.

6. Travel Easily with TSA PreCheck and Make Sure The TSA PreCheck Mark Is On Your Boarding Pass.

The TSA PreCheck program allows faster screening at over 200 airports. With a five-year membership costing $78, applicants can apply online in five minutes. After scheduling an appointment at an enrollment center and completing the visit, most new members receive their Known Traveler Number (KTN) within three to five days. Children 12 and younger can join family members in TSA PreCheck lanes, while children 13-17 can join enrolled adults on the same reservation. To learn more about joining the TSA PreCheck program, visit www.TSA.gov/precheck.

7. Call to Request Passenger Support.

Travelers or families needing assistance can contact TSA Cares helpline, toll-free at 855-787-2227. They can reach out at least 72 hours before travel to ask about screening procedures and learn what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares can also help arrange checkpoint assistance for travelers with specific needs.

8. Text or direct message us @ AskTSA.

Travelers can receive real-time assistance by texting their questions to #275-872 (AskTSA) or through @AskTSA on Twitter (now X) and Facebook Messenger. An automated virtual assistant is available 24/7, and staff is available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET daily, including holidays and weekends. Travelers can also contact the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673, where staff is available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends/holidays; an automated service is available 24/7.

9. Remain aware.

Travelers should report suspicious activities. If You See Something, Say Something™.

10. Pack Your Patience and Be Thankful for Frontline Workers.

Thanksgiving travel can be stressful for everyone, including the frontline workers in transportation, such as TSOs, gate agents, and flight attendants, who offer their service. TSOs undergo 200 hours of extensive training to ensure transportation security and treat all travelers respectfully. Show patience during busy travel days and express gratitude to those working tirelessly, including the holidays, to ensure everyone reaches their destinations safely.

MIA travel tips and projections for Thanksgiving week

Miami International Airport (MIA) expects a record-breaking number of passengers during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period. The projected 1.8 million passengers would be a 4.6% increase compared to last year.

MIA has the shortest security wait time in Florida and the 6th shortest in the U.S. They also have the best flight departure on-time performance among Florida’s busiest airports. To handle the increase in traffic, MIA advises passengers to arrive three hours before their flight, check in online, and pack essential items in their carry-on.

The airport provides real-time flight updates and TSA checkpoint wait times online and through the MIA app. Half-price parking is available at the Economy Park and Ride lot, and Valet Parking is located across from the check-in area. Passengers can use the courtesy trolley or shuttle bus service in Concourse D. Travelers with disabilities can request special assistance in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection area.

Portland Airport Improves Airport Accessibility Just In Time for Thanksgiving

After a successful pilot program, Portland International Airport (PDX) has expanded its partnership with GoodMaps to enhance the travel experience for individuals with diverse needs. GoodMaps provides audio-visual guidance of indoor spaces, catering to people who are blind and low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, mobility impaired, or neurodiverse. With the GoodMaps app’s help, PDX travelers can effortlessly locate their gate. They can also find amenities such as restrooms, food options, retail outlets, water fountains, and charging stations.

Houston Airports Offers Sensory Room To Reduce Thanksgiving Travel Stress

Sensory Room at Houston IAH.

Houston Airports is preparing for its largest Thanksgiving holiday travel crowd ever. George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) expect a combined 2.4 million travelers during the 13-day holiday travel season. This is a 6% increase from 2019 and an 11% increase from 2022. The busiest days are forecasted to be the Friday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday, with over 200,000 passengers daily. Thanksgiving and the Tuesday after Thanksgiving are expected to be the slowest travel days.

Preparing for your visit to Houston’s airports

  • Reserve parking online and at least 12 hours in advance of arriving at the airport 
  • Arrive at the airport early.
  1. Increased passenger traffic at Houston’s airports will result in more parking, luggage check-ins, ticketing counter usage, and TSA security screenings.
  2. The higher volume of people traveling will also potentially impact travel times on Houston-area roads.
  3. Construction of the new international terminal at Bush Airport is ongoing, with large steel trusses being delivered during daylight hours in the days leading up to Thanksgiving for safety reasons.
  4. Download the new and free Houston Airports app! You can reserve parking, keep tabs on your parking space, monitor TSA wait times in real-time, and find dining options in a specific terminal. 

Houston Sensory Room Improves Accessibility

Houston Airports has introduced a sensory room at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in the Mother’s Room at Terminal A North. This room offers a quiet and controlled environment where passengers, including those with developmental disorders, can find relief from the sensory stimuli of the airport. The dedicated space is designed with soothing lighting, noise reduction, and comfortable seating. It aims to help neurodivergent travelers who may feel overwhelmed in a bustling and unfamiliar place. To access the sensory room, passengers must contact the Airport Operations Center.

  • Once a passenger arrives inside the Mother’s Room, they will notice an interior room with a cipher lock and sensory sign that reads, “Please contact 281-230-1300 for access.”  
  • An AOC team member will provide the necessary code. 

Houston Airports offers a range of services to assist passengers. Sensory rooms equipped with colorful lighting, bubble tubes, and soundproof walls are available at Bush Airport, with additional ones planned for Terminal D and Hobby Airport. In addition, Companion Care Changing Rooms, equipped with lifts and adult-size changing tables, along with private bathroom facilities, are available. Mother’s Rooms are also provided for families requiring privacy while tending to young children.

Thanksgiving Air Travel Hack: Arrange Your Airport Parking In Advance With ParkFellows

ParkFellows helps travelers compare and reserve affordable airport parking—the company partners with various airports across the United States. Book airport parking in advance to save time and money, and de-stress your holiday travel.

JSX Stress-Free Thanksgiving Travel

JSX is a Dallas-based regional hop-on jet service that aims to provide a stress-free alternative to traditional airport travel. They offer crowd-free and reliable flights from private terminals, with fares starting at $300 each way.

This service allows travelers to experience many perks of flying private without the usual drawbacks, such as airport crowds and high membership fees. JSX is positioning itself as the ultimate holiday travel hack, providing a convenient and accessible option for modern travelers.

  • Customers can check in just 20 minutes before their flight.
  • No long check-in lines and a fast, effortless, TSA-accepted security program.
  • The cabin interior is bright, spacious, and modern, with 30 leather seats offering business-class legroom.
  • Complimentary customer amenities include two checked bags, drinks, snacks, and cocktails inflight.
  • Free high-speed in-flight Starlink Wi-Fi, the fastest Wi-Fi in the sky, with no login or cash required.
  • Deplaning and baggage retrieval within minutes of arrival.
  • Skis fly for free for winter travelers to destinations such as Colorado and Tahoe.

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