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How to get through the airport in one piece during Thanksgiving


(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

There is no sugarcoating it: Thanksgiving is a terrible time to travel. While a large portion of Americans will face road rage, others will brave airports, where a different kind of chaos reigns. This year, the Transportation Security Administration is expecting more travelers than ever to be passing through its airport checkpoints, and those fliers are already on the move.

“The TSA counts the Thanksgiving travel period from November 22nd to December 2nd,” TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein says. “During that time frame, we expect that we’ll be screening somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 million passengers. ”

That estimate is a 4 percent increase from last year during the same period; TSA is bracing for record-breaking days overall.

That means America’s busiest airports, like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Los Angeles International, Chicago’s O’Hare International, and Dallas/Fort Worth International, are going to be more crowded than ever. As a result, Farbstein recommends arriving two hours before your domestic flight and three hours before an international one.

TSA will be fully staffed throughout the holiday week, but expect wait times to climb, regardless.

“You’ll have a line to get dropped off, you’ll have a line at the check-in counter. There’ll be a line at the restroom. There will be a line at the Starbucks. So, yes, there’s going to be a line at [TSA’s] checkpoint,” Farbstein says.

While you can’t change how many people are traveling, you can do your part in getting through airport security as quickly as possible yourself. Farbstein encourages wearing slip-on shoes and storing easily forgettable belongings like gloves, hats and keys in carry-on bags rather than the provided bins. Fliers can also download the MyTSA app to keep track of wait times on their smartphones.

To better brace yourself for air travel during holiday season, here are some of our favorite tips from By The Way:

Plan your airport arrival wisely.


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While heeding Farbstein’s recommendation to arrive early, you can also take measures to make it as efficient as possible. It’s too late to get TSA PreCheck in time for Thanksgiving travel — the application takes a couple of weeks to process — but you can apply for CLEAR, another line-cutting service, on the spot. Make catching connections smoother by using FlightAware to know exactly where your plane is at all times, and FlightView to know which gate it will be coming into. Downloading your airline’s app is another way to stay on top of important alerts. You can also cut time by taking only a carry-on and triple-checking your flight information and documents before you leave your house.

Get through customs quicker.

Should you be one of the many travelers flying into the United States from abroad, consider downloading Mobile Passport before you touch down stateside. While not available at every major U.S. airport, the app is a great timesaver when it is an option. The service (which is free, unless you want a premium option that stores your personal information for quicker activation) gives travelers access to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection express lane so you can get to baggage claim faster.

Know what Thanksgiving foods you can bring onboard.

Don’t get caught up at airport security because you stuffed a tub of cranberry relish for your Thanksgiving feast in your carry-on bag. Know what leftovers you can and can’t bring with you on a plane by getting familiar with TSA and FAA regulations. For starters, mashed potatoes are totally fine, while gravy comes with restrictions. No matter what food you’re bringing, pack it in a clear container that’s easy to access so security can examine it faster.

Gear up to get some sleep on your flight.

Planes aren’t designed to nurture sweet slumber. You’ll have a better chance of sleeping if you pack a few essential items in your carry-on bag. Read more about the neck pillows, eye gear and tech accessories that’ll best support your plane sleep.

Stuck at the airport? Enjoy the weird and wonderful.


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The weather can be particularly gnarly and unpredictable this time of year. That means canceled flights, long delays and, to much dismay, more time at the airport. Should you find yourself stuck in one for an unholy length of time, try to see it as an opportunity to people-watch in this strange alternate universe where the normal rules of society do not apply. Drink in the morning! Sleep on the floor! Do what you must to survive.

Read more:

How to stay healthy while traveling during the holidays

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