I travel a lot. In fact, I've been on 79 flights, on 27 different airlines, and visited 20 countries so far in 2010, and it's not yet December.
Since I've been through my fair share of security checkpoints, I pretty much have it down when it comes to navigating the maze. The whole media buzz surrounding Wednesday's national "opt-out" day is a joke -- I don't think it's going to be any crazier than it usually is the day before Thanksgiving. Still, you'd have to pay me a lot to fly on Nov. 24 or any other peak holiday travel day. That's because it's much more expensive and the airports and planes are so crowded. It just takes the fun out of travel.
Worst of all, these days bring out what professional travelers call rookies: people who travel once or twice a year and have no clue about the procedures and tricks. If you fall into this category, then you'll want to read these tips because it won't make just your travels smoother but everyone else's around you.
Show Up Early
It's not rocket science but don't wait until the last minute to get to the airport. According to AAA, there will be a record number of people traveling this Thanksgiving weekend -- 42.2 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more, so expect traffic getting to the airport. According to the Air Transport Association, it's estimated that around 24 million people will take to the skies during the 12-day period surrounding Thanksgiving Day.
It doesn't take a mathematician to realize that the lines at the airport will be long. If you don't have a friend or family member giving you a ride, book your taxi/shuttle or parking space well in advance. Most off-airport parking facilities allow users to pre-pay -- it's not only cheaper but it prevents the panic of showing up to a parking lot entrance only to see a Lot Full sign. I use Airport Parking Reservations and Park 'N Fly .
You should receive an email from your airline or travel agency 24 hours prior to departure saying it's time to check in. Hopefully, you secured your seat assignment when you purchased your ticket. If you didn't, do it now and print your boarding pass. If you don't have access to a printer you can still check in online and choose the option to pick up the boarding pass from a self-service kiosk at the airport. Bonus Tip: some airlines offer mobile boarding passes but I don't recommend them since not all TSA readers function properly.
Biggest waste of time? Waiting behind people to access a self-service kiosk. For some reason, some people just stand at the front of the line waiting to be called when there are clearly free machines. If you see a vacant kiosk either tell the person in front or go to it yourself. To use them you don't need to write down your confirmation number (but it's a good backup); just slide any of your credit/debit cards for it to register. It doesn't have to be the one you paid with either; they only read your card information to identify you.