- More than 43 million Americans are expected to travel over the holiday, 39 million by car
- Long-haul truck driver cautions drivers about cutting it close with big rigs
- TSA agents, flight attendant urge travelers to research the rules ahead of time
On a clear dry day, driving 55 mph, it takes long-haul trucker Camille Pask the length of three football fields to stop her fully loaded rig.
"Just because we have more wheels doesn't mean we can stop faster," said Pask, whose truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds when packed.
This is the busy season for Pask, who will be working through the Thanksgiving holiday to deliver goods for the Christmas shopping season.
It's also the busiest travel period of the year for Americans, when travel veterans and amateurs converge en route to turkey dinners -- or just another day on the job. About 43.6 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home between November 21 and November 25 for the holiday, an increase of 0.7% over last year.
Everyone wants a safe, happy holiday, so we asked workers on the front lines of the Thanksgiving crush for their hard-earned tips for smooth travels.
As Thursday rolls closer and the roads get more crowded with impatient drivers, Pask would like them to stay clear of larger trucks.
Knowing that 80,000 pounds is barreling along in the lane beside you, why would you ever cut off a semi?
Another tip: If you can't see her mirrors, she can't see you. And she can't ever see any cars that ride in tandem with her on the right side. "That's one of our major blind spots for small vehicles passing us on the right," she said. "It's a really dangerous spot to be."
Leave enough time for traffic jams
With about 39 million drivers hitting the road this holiday, travelers need to leave enough time for unexpected delays. A minor traffic accident can back up traffic for hours on some of the nation's highways.
During the holidays, "there are an awful lot of accidents," said Fran Ehret, a toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike for 26 years and now president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 194, which represents the turnpike toll collectors.
"Leave enough time to get where you're going so you're not having to drive too fast," she said.
If you don't regularly use toll booths and don't have an electronic pass to pay the toll, pay close attention to the signs directing drivers to cashier-staffed booths.
"You don't want to pull into an E-ZPass lane if you're paying cash," said Ehret. You could cause traffic delays, and "you'll get a bill with a fee attached to it."
And please don't yell or curse out your toll collector or your fellow drivers because traffic is heavy or lanes are merging into the toll plaza. Pay your toll and drive on!
"People's personalities change when they get behind the wheel of their cars. You meet them in their personal lives and they wouldn't act like that," Ehret said.
Research air travel security rules
There is no getting around it: All 3 million travelers flying to their destinations during the Thanksgiving holiday will have to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. Some of them will be traveling with food for the feast. The TSA has posted special guidance online for travelers toting culinary creations.
TSA officers Jackie Fitzpatrick and Charles Link promise they don't want to take away your pies. Really.
"We know there's pressure to make that plane or you're traveling with family or bringing special foods you don't want to get squished," said Fitzpatrick.
"It's all about the pies at the holidays," added Link. "Apple, coconut. Testing will be done, but (pies) are allowed."
Fitzpatrick and Link, who supervise security checkpoints at New York City's LaGuardia Airport, are going Italian on Thanksgiving Day and will be making pasta salad and baked ziti, respectively, for staff potlucks.
For travelers working their way toward a friend or family's table with a tasty contribution, just do a little advance research at the TSA website to know what you can bring and how much you can bring. In the case of your specially made foods, they might need a little extra security, and they can't violate the agency's 3-ounce liquid rules. The agency also has a mobile app that provides information on checkpoint wait times, prohibited items and airport status.
Video games fall under the laptop rule and must be placed in a separate bin as they go through security machines. And snow globes can't be larger than a tennis ball.
If you're getting a head start on Christmas, don't wrap presents beforehand. The TSA may have to unwrap gifts, which could be sad if your child sees the light saber that Santa is bringing him.
And no toy guns or weapons, please. They won't be allowed to pass through security. It doesn't matter that they're not real weapons. Security officials won't allow anything weapon-like because it might scare your fellow passengers or the crew.
People with medical issues should call TSA Cares (855-787-2227) before they travel to see if they need to take any extra steps or if they qualify for extra assistance to clear security.
Southwest Airlines flight attendant Barb Pool can spot the travelers who have overpacked and rushed to get to the airport in time.
Pool advises travelers to pack in advance, check as much baggage as possible, research TSA rules about what you can bring, and leave behind contingency supplies that will be available at your destination. (Southwest allows two free checked bags, JetBlue allows one, and some airlines let frequent fliers and airline credit card holders check a bag for free.)
"Do whatever it takes to not stress," said Pool, who often celebrates the holidays in advance with her family. "People get on a plane and are stuck for so many hours. It's not a fun journey if you're stressed."
Pool tends to find joy in many of her flights, whether it's holding a baby as nervous parents stow their bags, talking to military personnel heading home on leave, or helping people with disabilities get settled.
"Most of the time they're preoccupied, but every once in a while they'll offer to take you home for Thanksgiving," she said. "Elderly people especially realize you're not going to be with your family."
She also knows that something larger might be stressing out her customers.
"Everyone's not always traveling for happy events," she said. "They might be fighting tears. It could be their first year without a spouse or they're going to a funeral. Everyone's not going to Grandma's for dinner. I try to be extra sensitive to it."