Millions of Americans are about to hit the road, traveling to see family and friends for the long Thanksgiving weekend. But before you get behind the wheel, head to the airport or board that train or bus, here are some tips for braving the Thanksgiving crowds.
AAA projects 38.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home over the Thanksgiving weekend; a 1.4 percent increase over last year.
Everybody but the airlines, according to AAA, will see an increase in travelers. There will be an estimated 2.1 percent more people on the roads, and 1.2 percent more people taking trains, buses and ferries. The airlines, which have been cutting flights in response to the recession and an overall decline in travel, will see 6.7 percent fewer travelers, according to AAA. (The airline industry's trade group predicts a 4 percent decline.)
That said, fliers – about 2.3 million people, compared to the 33.2 million in cars – are the most likely to encounter delays and frustrations. (Last week's FAA computer glitch was a good reminder of how easily things can go wrong.)
So what should you do to minimize the pain of holiday travel? ABC News asked some experts. They all suggested doing your research in advance and taking advantage of the numerous online tools available today.
Making a connection? Print out an airport terminal map in advance (they are also in the back of those in-flight magazines.) Sign up for flight delay alerts to your cell phone, iPhone or BlackBerry. And take advantage of your airline's online services.
For instance, most airlines let you check in online 24 hours in advance.
"The second you are eligible to print your boarding pass -- usually 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds before departure -- do so," said Rick Seaney, CEO of the airfare site FareCompare.com and an ABC News columnist. "He who prints first, gets the best seats -- plus some room in the overhead bins."
Checking bags? There are still advantages to going online first, including special lines at some airports.
"Thanksgiving travel is inherently nerve-racking. Alleviate some of that anxiety by checking your family and bags in online up to 24 hours in advance. Then use the pre-checked bag line at the airport ticket counter. It's a great time-saving shortcut offered by many airlines," said Brian Clark, senior vice president of travel search site Fly.com. "There is no substitute for arriving early at the airport."
There is one bit of good news for travelers who have Wi-Fi enabled laptops and phones: lots of free Internet offers this holiday travel period.
Google is offering free Wi-Fi at 47 participating airports across the country through Jan. 15. To find the airports check out http://www.freeholidaywifi.com/. Virgin America is also providing free service through Jan. 15 for all passengers on all flights.
United Airlines will give first-time Wi-Fi users one free session on its transcontinental p.s. (short for premium service) flights. And Delta teamed up with eBay to offer free Wi-Fi from Nov. 24 through Nov. 30. To learn more about Wi-Fi on planes, check out our comprehensive guide here.