Getting excited about gathering for America’s most anticipated holiday meal?
First, you have to get there. And with winter watches, warnings and advisories lined up from California to Michigan, many people may experience travel delays.
A record 31.6 million passengers will travel on US airlines during the Thanksgiving holiday period, according to a forecast by Airlines For America, an US airline trade organization.
That’s up 3.7% from last year.
Sunday, December 1 is expected to be the busiest travel day ever for the US airline industry, with 3.1 million passengers expected that day, according to the organization’s estimates.
The second-busiest day of the holiday period will be Wednesday, November 27, with 2.98 million people flying the day before Thanksgiving.
The best day to fly? It’s Thanksgiving Day, with just 1.79 million people flying on the actual holiday.
The forecast translates to an average of 2.63 million passengers per day – up 93,000 passengers per day from a year ago.
The airline organization defines the Thanksgiving travel season as starting on Friday, November 22 and wrapping up Tuesday, December 3.
Most people are driving
While long airport security lines and planes on tarmacs generate a lot of Thanksgiving attention, most American travelers will be getting to their destinations on the nation’s roadways, according to predictions from motor and leisure travel company AAA.
Some 49.3 million travelers will be traveling by car to join family and friends – the most since 2005, AAA says. The drivers are among the more than 55 million travelers that AAA estimates are planning a trip of 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving.
Global transportation analytics company INRIX expects Wednesday afternoon to be the worst time to travel, with trips taking as much as four times longer than normal in major metropolitan areas.
“With record levels of travelers, and persistent population growth in the country’s major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX, in a statement released by AAA. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week.”
AAA expects to answer roadside assistance calls for nearly 368,000 motorists this Thanksgiving season, and dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons for the calls.
AAA’s advice: Have vehicles serviced before your trip.
A developing storm with strong winds and snow will push from the Rockies into the Plains Tuesday, while another storm along the West Coast will likely bring heavy rains to the coast and valleys and snow to the mountains. Given the current forecast, it’s worth checking weather along your driving route. If you’re considering driving into bad weather, please be prepared.
Check your equipment. Make sure your windshield wipers work, that your oil doesn’t need to be changed, and your tires aren’t losing their grip. If you’re in a snowy area, bring that windshield scraper and a small shovel to dig yourself out of trouble.
Fill your gas tank. We know it’s only an hour to Grandma’s house but there’s no reason to depart with your tank half full.
Bring extra supplies. Bring extra water and snacks in case you’re stuck in traffic or your car battery conks out and you need to wait for help.
Flares and a flashlight. If you do need assistance, a fully charged cell phone, backup cell phone battery, flares and a flashlight can help light the way.
Stay warm. If your car won’t run, neither will the heat. Pack warm coats and blankets to keep warm if you’re stuck on the side of the road.
Flying with patience
Flying can be faster – and more frustrating – for holiday travel.
About 26.8 million passengers are expected to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints nationwide from the Friday before Thanksgiving through the Monday afterward, or November 22 to December 2, according to TSA Acting Deputy Administrator Patricia Cogswell.
That would be a record for the Thanksgiving period, “probably the biggest Thanksgiving period in our entire history,” Cogswell said at a recent press conference at Washington Reagan National Airport.
It’s important for travelers to know ahead of time what needs to be checked and what can be brought aboard aircraft, Cogswell said. That information is available online at TSA.gov.
TSA is also reminding travelers during the holiday crush that new REAL ID identification requirements are less than a year away.
Beginning October 1, 2020, travelers 18 and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license or another acceptable form of ID to fly within the US.
Our Thanksgiving guide to flying
Patience and preparation will be key for fliers over the holiday period.
Check your flight status. Check your flight status and get your mobile boarding passes or print outs ready 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.
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.
Check TSA requirements in advance. Figure out what you can carry on and what has to be packed in checked luggage. It’s all listed online at TSA.gov.
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.
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.
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.)
CNN’s Marnie Hunter and Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.