Seven Tips for Smooth Thanksgiving Travel

Driving or flying can be a pain, so be prepared for the worst.

Nov. 22, 2010— -- Traveling this Thanksgiving? Expect the roads and airports to be significantly more crowded than last year, thanks in part to an improving economy.

Roughly 42.2 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from their home this holiday, according to AAA. That's 11.4 percent more than last year.

To help avoid car trouble and unnecessary delays during holiday travel, AAA recommends drivers check their tire treads, tire pressure, wiper blades and battery connections.

While the vast majority of those travelers will be driving, it's those who take to the skies that often deal with the most headaches and heartache. Sure, nobody likes bumper-to-bumper traffic, but would you rather be stuck in traffic in your car or having airport security do a thorough pat-down of your privates?

Besides, it seems that every year the rules of the airport change ever so slightly. (Most people drive every day and the rules of the road really don't change.)

And for fliers, there is some good news: the government is once again opening up some military air space to help speed commercial flights.

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So with all that in mind, we reached out to Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor at Travelocity to answer seven commonly-asked questions about flying during Thanksgiving.

#1: May I Bring My Turkey?

The short answer here is yes, though you might get some strange looks at security. Keep in mind, however, your turkey (or whatever other food you bring on the aircraft) must be part of your carry-on luggage and must not take up more than the free one bag and one carry-on item allotted by every domestic airline except Spirit (which charges for carry-on luggage). Remember, though, that the TSA still allows no more than 3 ounces of liquid in any one container, so your turkey cannot be soaking in brine, getting itself ready for dinner at grandma's house.

#2: How Long Do I Really Need to Get Though Security?

Provided you have checked in online before your flight (see question three), you can arrive at security one hour before your domestic flight and most likely be just fine. But, just to be on the safe side, you might want to leave yourself an extra half-hour during a busy travel weekend like Thanksgiving. If you choose not to check in online, arrive at the airport at least two hours before your departure time to be ready for long lines at the check-in counter, which are in addition to the lines at security. Arrive at the airport two hours before all international flights.

#3: How Do I Make Sure I Don't Get Bumped From My Flight?

There is no guaranteed way to avoid getting bumped, but there are certainly ways to minimize your chances. First and foremost, reserve a seat when you purchase your flight online, rather than letting one be randomly assigned to you at a later date. Next, check in online on your carrier's website up to 24 hours before your flight. Often, when a flight is oversold and no one is willing to give up their seat, the airline will bump the person or people who checked in last. Finally, get to the gate as early as possible (see question two; this is when that extra half-hour might come in handy) and reconfirm your seat with the gate agent.

#4: What If I Miss My Connection?

Typically when you miss a connection, the airline just puts you on the next flight to your destination. During a peak travel period like Thanksgiving, however, that might not be so simple because planes are flying very full and you'll have to wait for a flight with an available seat. The easiest way to not miss a connection is to book a direct flight in the first place. If that's not possible, leave a minimum of two hours to make your connecting flight to protect against any delays on the first leg of your trip.

If you've already purchased your flight and you're worried the connecting time is too tight, visit your airport's website to see a map of the airport to get a lay of the land. Then ask your flight attendant on your first flight to tell you what gate your next flight is using. This can save you several minutes of searching for your gate. Finally, if you do miss your connection and it looks as if it is going to be a while before the airline finds you an empty seat to your destination, it's time to be flexible. Be willing to travel to airports near your destination -- for example, Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami, or Charleston instead of Savannah -- if there are empty seats.

#5: What Should I Keep With Me in Case We Get Stranded on the Tarmac?

It is very unlikely that you'll get stranded on the tarmac. However, make sure you're prepared for the worst-case scenario over Thanksgiving weekend and every other time you fly. Keep on your person at all times a fully charged cell phone, all medications, water (purchased post-security) and a snack. If you're traveling with children, make sure they have formula (this is an exception to the TSA liquid rule), diapers and activities to keep them amused. Bottom line -- if you can't live without it, don't put it in your checked luggage, because once it's checked you're not going to see it again until you get to your destination.

#6: Can I Bring Gifts Along?

Yes, but be aware that wrapped gifts may be opened at security. Use gift bags or wait until you arrive at your destination before wrapping presents. And of course, anything you carry on the plane counts towards your allotted one carry-on bag and one personal item.

#7: How Much Will It Cost My Family to Check Our Bags?

That, of course, depends on how many bags you check. Most airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second on domestic flights. Exceptions are JetBlue, which allows one free checked bag, and Southwest, which allows two. Generally speaking, a family of four, each checking one bag, will pay a total of $200 round-trip in bag charges. Some airlines offer small discounts -- usually $3 per bag -- if you pay online before your flight.

Your bag must not weigh more than 50 pounds or measure more than 62 inches. Otherwise, it will be subject to overweight and/or oversized bag fees. On international flights, you're often allowed to check one bag free of charge, but check your carrier's website for specifics.

Keep in mind that every ticketed passenger (including a small child) is entitled to one regulation-size carry-on bag and one personal item for free, except on Spirit. Regulation size is generally 45 linear inches or less; you can figure this number out by adding the width plus the length plus the height.