"More Americans traveling during the winter holidays is another sign consumers are continuing to grow more confident in their personal financial situations," AAA's Director of Travel Services Glen MacDonell said in a statement. "The moderate projected rise in the number of air travelers this holiday period is especially welcome since the airline industry was hit especially hard by the recession."
But even if family finances are stronger this year, some helpful travel tips can still make the trip easier. Nothing can assure a delay-free holiday, but a few tips might ease the pain.
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.
"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 offers 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. To learn more about Wi-Fi on planes, check out our comprehensive guide here.
One big change this year: a new security measure being phased in by the Department of Homeland Security that will require airline passengers to submit their full names (including middle name), birth dates, and gender when booking a ticket. The idea behind the questioning is that this extra information will cut down on cases of mistaken identity. Although small differences between your ID and boarding pass shouldn't be problematic right now, consistency will help to minimize your time in line.
Airport security lines can often be one of the biggest travel hassles. Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com offers several tips to speed your way through security:
Know what 3-1-1 means. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations restrict the amount of liquids you can take on the plane. Each passenger is allowed to fill a single, quart-sized, clear plastic bag with 3-ounce (technically, 3.4-ounce) containers of liquids. Exceptions are made for medications, baby food, and breast milk, but these items must be declared.