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Travel tips to simplify your Thanksgiving trip

Thanksgiving week is the most crowded travel period of the year, with hordes of holiday well-wishers flying all over the country over the course of only a few days. It can seem like you’re spending the bulk of your holiday at the airport, and long lines can cause short fuses for many travelers.

It is possible to arrive with your holiday cheer intact, however. Minimize the time you’ll spend at the airport by using a few simple tricks to speed up the process. These tips, combined with our other holiday travel advice, will help remove the headaches from your Thanksgiving flight.

Check for flight delays

With so many travelers trying to cram onto a finite number of planes, delays are almost unavoidable. There’s nothing worse than getting to the airport the recommended 90 to 120 minutes before your flight is scheduled to take off, and checking the monitor only to find that your plane has been delayed. Call your airline or check its website before you leave for the airport to make sure your flight schedule hasn’t changed.

Check in online

Now that every traveler needs a boarding pass to get through security checkpoints, you might be nervous about how much time you’ll spend in line waiting to check in. Instead of arriving at the airport and hopping into line for the ticket counter or even a check-in kiosk, you might want to consider online check-in to avoid lines entirely.

On top of the convenience, another benefit of online check-in is that you can reserve your seat online before arriving at the airport. This means you’ll reduce your chances of getting bumped from an oversold flight during a busy travel time.

Online check-in is only valid for passengers with e-tickets, and not all airlines offer the service for international flights. Another possible drawback is that you can’t check your luggage through your home computer, and if you’re bringing more than your allotted carry-on items, you may end up waiting in line to check your bags.

See below for a list of airlines that offer Web check-in, as well as the significant details. All baggage you don’t plan to carry on must be checked at the ticket counter, unless noted otherwise.

  • AirTran: Check in between 24 hours and 90 minutes ahead of your scheduled departure.
  • Alaska: Check in for domestic flights between 30 hours and one hour ahead of your scheduled departure.
  • America West: Check in between 30 hours and 90 minutes before departure. If you’re checking bags, you can take them to an America West skycap, a kiosk, or the ticket counter.
  • American: American AAdvantage program members can use the airline’s Web check-in between 30 hours and one hour before departure. Bags can be checked at the curb.
  • ATA: Check in between 24 hours and 90 minutes before departure. Online check-in is only available if you are not checking bags.
  • Continental: Check-in is valid from 30 hours to one hour before departure. Bags can be checked at a Continental kiosk or at the ticket counter at least 45 minutes before departure.
  • Delta: Check in within 24 hours of your scheduled departure. Baggage must be checked at a kiosk or curbside stand at least 30 minutes before your flight departs.
  • Frontier: Check in between 12 hours and 90 minutes before takeoff. Check your baggage curbside.
  • Northwest: Check in between 36 hours and one hour ahead of your departure.
  • United: Check in between 24 hours and one hour before takeoff. Baggage can be checked at the curb.
  • US Airways: Check in up to 24 hours in advance of your flight. Use curbside or kiosk check-in for luggage.

Follow TSA guidelines

Once you’ve checked in and have your boarding pass in hand, it’s time to make your way to the security checkpoints. There’s no way to avoid this line, but the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced some tips to help security lines move as efficiently as possible. The TSA states that secondary screenings take up to three minutes per person—which can add up quickly in a long line—and is offering three tips to help you avoid being pulled aside.

First, make sure you put any metal items you might be carrying into your carry-on bag while you’re waiting in line. That will keep you from having to remove them once you get to the scanning machines. You might also want to remove your jacket or coat, as well as your shoes, and place them on the conveyor belt, to avoid being stopped by a screener. Plus, if you’re carrying a laptop, you should take it out of its case, and be prepared to turn it on in case you’re asked by a security screener. If everyone in line follows these three simple steps, security checkpoints will run more smoothly.

For more guidelines and suggestions for holiday travel, go to the TSA’s website.

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