By Quentin Fottrell
Don’t fasten your seatbelts yet. It could be a long and bumpy wait for your flight this Thanksgiving. Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare and Orlando International airports will be the busiest around Thanksgiving, according to a survey by travel website Orbitz.com. However, JFK in New York rates only eighth out of the 10 busiest. JFK mainly caters to international travelers, consumer advocate Chris Elliott says, while LAX and other airports service more of the typical American Thanksgiving traveler fleeing the big city for home.
But there is good news for those traveling via Ronald Reagan Washington National and Atlanta’s Hartsfield International airports: They fell off the busiest Top-10 list this year. The survey covered the top 50 U.S. airports based on flight bookings between Nov. 23 and Nov. 27, 2011. And it’s no surprise that holiday/destination airports like Mineta San Jose International, Kahului/Hawaii and John Wayne in California are seeing less traffic, Elliott says, as most folk travel to see family around Thanksgiving.
Here are 5 tips to avoid the longest of all possible waits:
1. Set your alarm clock. Well, that goes without saying. But do something else before you set it. Book non-stop, direct flights as early as possible in the morning to avoid long delays and being hit by air traffic congestion, says Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org. Those with children in tow also have the option of paying a little more as a way to avoid lines at a second airport.
2. Check in with your app. “Siri: Where is the shortest security line?” Maybe the amusing iPhone 4S voice-activation service won’t have the answer, but the GateGuru app might help you find the shortest way through security. It has maps of airports, lists of retailers, and allows others to post reviews and photographs. As Pay Dirt reported, it can tell you where to find the restrooms in the Terminal 2 at O’Hare and where to find truly good clam chowder at Sea-Tac.
3. Assign yourself a seat. Not doing so online or by telephone might mean your seat is given away by the airline during your mad dash to the airport. “If you don’t have a seat assignment, you don’t have a seat,” Hanni says. Call the airline and ask them for a seat and, if not, ask them to change your flight or to assign you one. “It’s better to avoid a last minute disaster of being bumped on a congested travel day,” she says.
4. Curbside check-ins: If you forgot to print your boarding pass before you left the office on your way to the airport or your printer at home has a habit of frequently malfunctioning, fear not. Many airlines offer curbside check-in, a big benefit if you arrive by taxi and have no parking issues to deal with. George Hobica, founder and CEO of AifFareWatchDog.com, says it’s worth checking if your airline does this at your airport of choice.
5. Shorten your connections. For those with no checked bags, who’ve already gone through customs and have a boarding pass printed out for the connection flight, book your own connection flight. Taking the the risk (missing your flight due to the first one being extremely delayed) might be worth the reward (a faster, smoother journey if you only have an hour layover between flights). Many don’t always need two three-hour windows, Hanni says.
Finally, for those who get stuck, here are some fun activities to while away the hours – from practicing your golf to working out at the gym.