Thanksgiving Air Travel Survival Guide

Here are the three most important "Holiday Facts of Life": you must buy flowers on Valentine's Day; you are obligated to call on Mother's Day; and every Thanksgiving, if at all possible, you have to go home.

Now that we've got that squared away, let's focus on Thanksgiving. Got your tickets? Good. But that's only half the battle, particularly if you haven't flown lately.

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Surviving Thanksgiving air travel can be like -- well have you seen the new movie "2012"? As film critic Stephen Whitty put it, "All you can do is grit your teeth and wait for the next wave of destruction" -- he was talking about the disaster flick of course, but he could have been describing what the airports will be like next week.

VIDEO: Learn the secrets airports will keep from you this holiday season.Play
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But, the more you know, the better you'll survive any holiday snafus: the cliché that "information is power" is particularly true for travelers. What you need is a plan, and it just so happens that I have one. The following is a step-by-step survival guide, on what to do -- and when to do it -- for a smooth and soothing Thanksgiving air travel experience, for novices and veterans alike.

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One Week Before Departure:

Round-up the Usual Necessities

The night before your flight is not the time to wonder if you need to get your prescription refilled, or if that broken zipper on your suitcase will mean an explosion of underwear on the baggage carousel. Take care of these travel essentials now.

48 Hours Before Departure:

Phone Fundamentals

No traveler should be without a cell phone at this time; be sure you or Grandma -- and those on pickup duty -- have a cell and know how to use it. Plug in essential numbers including the host of the Thanksgiving feast and the airline. Also, set up "flight status" text/e-mail alerts with FlightStats and your airline, so you and anyone heading to the airport gets the latest updates.

24 Hours Before Departure:

Print, Pack and More

Step one: The second you are eligible to print your boarding pass -- usually 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds before departure -- do so.

He who prints first, gets the best seats -- plus some room in the overhead bins (of course, your airline may allow you to pay extra for the privilege of early boarding, or this might be an elite miles member perk, or -- well, you vets know the drill, but you inexperienced fliers should print your passes ASAP).

Step two: Charge batteries: for phones, for laptops, for DVD players, headsets – all electronics.

Step three: Food and entertainment: buy or make a lunch and grab that Grisham or Jane Austen; you'll save time and avoid the eye-popping prices at the airport (and remember, no large-size liquids allowed through security).

Step four: Pack: use a carryon, and save the $40 roundtrip bag fee (and makes sure your carryon conforms to your airline's size guidelines -- since the baggage police will be out in force). If you must check a bag, see my domestic airline bag fee chart -- and don't put anything in that checked-bag that you cannot live without (or perhaps, wouldn't want to live without). And remember, coat pockets can hold all kinds of things, from gloves and scarves to underwear and socks.

Step five: Print out maps of departure and connecting airports and study them: if they change gates or terminals on you, this could be a real time-saver. You can also find great lunch spots, your airport's VIP lounge (if you're stuck, consider buying a day-pass), and where you can board the inter-terminal trams. A clear "X marks the spot" document is so much easier than trying to find (and decipher) an "info" board near your gate.

Night Before Departure

Since you'll probably be getting up at dawn, lay out wear-on-the-plane clothes, boarding pass, reading material, coat and maybe a laptop (might as well -- Google is providing free WiFi to 47 airports over the holidays). Then, confirm your transportation arrangements -- you'll want to give yourself extra time to get to the airport in case traffic is a mess. And be there at least an hour before your flight leaves.

D-Day (Departure Date)

With luck, all goes well. If there are delays, you can text the folks at home (or e-mail them from the plane, if your aircraft is equipped with WiFi,) in order to warn them not to set out for the airport just yet.

And what about unexpected storms -- the kind that mess with your airport (and all the other airports that connect to yours)? Unfortunately, all the preparation in the world isn't going to help there -- some things cannot be controlled.

So if your plane is running late, just shrug it off. Nothing you can do. Lean back, kick your shoes off, listen to the iPod (you did charge those batteries, didn't you?) and just remember: leftover turkey is generally even tastier than the original.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.