Thanksgiving travel: Prepare for the busiest time of the year

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NEW YORK — Getting excited to eat your mother’s roast turkey, your uncle’s stuffing and your sister’s famous green bean casserole?

First you have to get there.

A record 30.6 million passengers will travel on US airlines during the Thanksgiving holiday, up from an estimated 29 million passengers a year ago, according to a forecast by Airlines for America, an US airline trade organization.

The forecast translates to an estimated 2.55 million passengers per day, up 137,000 per day from a year ago.

The busiest flying day is projected to be Sunday, November 25, with an estimated 3.06 million passengers trying to get home. The second-busiest day will be Wednesday, November 21, with 2.93 million people flying the day before Thanksgiving.

The airline association defines the Thanksgiving travel season as starting Friday, November 16, and extending through Tuesday, November 27.

Flying on the holiday

The best day to fly during that 12-day period? It’s Thanksgiving Day, with just 1.73 million people flying on the actual holiday.

The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen about 2.6 million passengers and crew on the Wednesday before the holiday, 500,000 more people than a typical weekday. On November 25, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the agency estimates more than 2.7 million travelers will be flying home.

That’s why TSA officials say they’re adding more than 1,200 TSA officers and an additional 80 passenger screening canine teams over the holiday, which they define as November 16 through November 26.

“As Thanksgiving and the holiday travel seasons arrive, ensuring the safety and security of the millions of passengers traveling daily remains TSA’s top priority,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske, in a statement.

“We marked several records over the spring and summer travel periods this year, screening more than 525 million passengers and crew. This upcoming season will be very busy as more passengers choose to fly, and TSA officers will be on duty over the holidays so travelers can enjoy theirs.”

Prepare for a bumpy ride

While travelers can’t predict the impact of rainy or snowy weather in late November, there are plenty of things people who don’t fly a lot — and those who do — can do to be prepared for the possibility of bumpy rides.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times of the year because it’s compressed into about a week — the Tuesday before through the Tuesday after,” says aviation expert Benét J. Wilson, owner and editor-in-chief of Aviation Queen. “As such, you must be prepared for delays and cancellations.”

Even those of you who fly all the time for work and have Platinum or Diamond status on every airline don’t usually fly with homemade pumpkin pie. (If you do, please post a picture and tag @CNNTravel.)

Patience and flexibility will be key to your happiness this Thanksgiving season, especially if bad weather snarls the nation’s flight schedules.

Most people are driving

Some 48.5 million Americans will be getting to their destinations on the nation’s roadways, according to AAA projections.

The motor and leisure travel company expects to answer roadside assistance calls for nearly 360,000 motorists this Thanksgiving, and dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons for the calls.

AAA’s advice: “Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown.”

Fly with pie

Really, you can take pie on a plane.

The key to transporting pies is packing them well, says Amanda Hesser, co-founder and CEO of Food52, a food website.

She recommends using a strong, shallow box with a lid, whether it’s Food 52’s PieBox or a boots box or other right-sized container. Then line the box with a folded kitchen towel to keep the pie from sliding around.

“Once you lay the pie in the box, wedge a couple of ice packs — wrapped in plastic bags, to absorb moisture — around the pie to keep it in place and cool while you’re in transit,” she says. “Most pumpkin pies are fine at room temperature but the cooler your pie is, the firmer and more stable your filling will be while you’re on the road.

“You’ll have to carry the box of pie through security, and once on the plane, store it beneath the seat in front of you — the pie is likely to get flattened by someone else’s bag if you put it in the overhead compartment.”

Our Thanksgiving guide to flying

Check your flight status. Check your flight status and print out your boarding passes at home. (It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny at home if your aircraft is coming from Chicago and they’re having a snowstorm.)

Load up on apps. Most airlines, many airports and the TSA all have apps you can use to check on flying conditions, aircraft status and even food for sale. Some airlines let you rebook on their apps.

Pack snacks. The lines at your favorite airport eatery are going to be long, so have some snacks ready to eat, especially if you’re facing a super-long TSA line.

Prepare your kids. That could mean bringing enough diapers, snacks and wipes or having enough shows loaded up on electronic devices to keep them busy. Just don’t let them bug other people while traveling.

Pack your jellies. Eggnog, maple syrup, preserves and jellies need to go into checked bags. (With a checked bag, you can pack ALL of your crazy sweaters.)

Have a disability? Call TSA. Travelers with disabilities or medical conditions and their families can call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours prior to flying to ask questions about screening policies and get assistance at checkpoints.

What else do you need? Noise-cancelling headphones, a sleep pillow and a charged battery for your gadgets? Bring them all.

Get to the airport early. If you clear the lines to check your bags and clear security early, there’s more time to read or play with electronics, do yoga or talk to your traveling companions. (Are you sensing a “standing in line” theme?)

Stay chill. No amount of yelling at gate agents or flight attendants gets you from Point A to Point B any faster. In fact, being kind to airport and airline employees creates good will and might get you a better seat. (It sure helps with karma.)