Tips for Holiday Travel in the Air, on the Road or by Rail

If you are traveling during the holidays, be prepared to wait. With roads, rails and airlines packed to capacity and sometimes beyond, any hiccup, from weather to gridlock, can cause ripples throughout the system.

In The Air

Chances are travelers will encounter long lines, particularly at airport security checkpoints, as an expected 25 million passengers take to the skies between Friday, November 17 and Tuesday, November 28, 2006. The Wednesday before thanksgiving and the Sunday after are the busiest travel days. Airports across the country expect to handle 50 percent more passengers than they do on a normal Wednesday.

“Airports will be packed for periods of time over this Thanksgiving season and the best advice is to be prepared,” Air Transport Association (ATA) president and chief executive officer (CEO) James C. May explains in a joint statement with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA). “The airlines have no greater priority that the safe and convenient travel of our customers and we will work with TSA and ACI-NA to ensure this happens.”

Air travelers can significantly enhance their airport experience by being prepared. Along with plenty of patience, travelers should also pack liquids, gels and aerosols in checked baggage whenever possible, arrive at least 2 hours before domestic flights or 3 hours before international flights and leave prohibited items at home.

The Thanksgiving holiday marks the first major travel holiday under the stricter rules governing travel with liquids. Passengers are allowed to carry small amounts of liquids, gels and aerosols in their carry-on luggage. The original ban on all liquids that went into effect after possible terrorist plots were interrupted in August had been modified on September 25 after extensive testing revealed small amounts of these substances did not posed a significant threat. Individuals who must carry liquids, gels and aerosols through a security checkpoint are reminded to follow the 3-1-1 rules:

  • carry 3 oz or smaller containers
  • all containers must fit in a single, 1 quart, clear, zip-top bag
  • 1 bag per passenger only placed in bin for screening

“By knowing the rules and remembering 3-1-1, travelers can make a big difference in TSA’s ability to efficiently and effectively screen all passengers and their baggage,” TSA Administrator Kip Hawley explains. “Each time a physical inspection of a carry-on bag is required, it not only slows the individual traveler down, but the entire security line.”

On The Road

Of course, not all travelers will be traveling by plane over the Thanksgiving holiday. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates 31.7 million people are expected to travel along American highways this year.

“The busiest travel days tend to be on Wednesday in terms of going by car,” Mantill Williams of AAA told ABC. “People tend to leave Wednesday afternoon and they come back Sunday evening.”

Those traveling by car, van or RV will want to:

  • Make sure the vehicle has been properly checked out by a mechanic or consider renting a vehicle. Mechanical difficulties have the potential to delay or even derail your holiday plans and prevention is the best way to avoid them.

  • Plan to spend more time on the road. Heavy traffic, especially on Wednesday afternoon and Sunday may create tie-ups. Plan frequent stops and don’t run low on fuel. Also be prepared for sudden changes in weather that may affect driving conditions.

  • Don’t leave valuables in plain sight when making stops. Put as much in the trunk as possible and carry purses, briefcases and laptops inside, even if the stop is only for a few minutes, if they cannot be placed in the trunk.

  • Bring along something to do, especially if traveling with children. Games and other time wasters are invaluable on longer trips or when stuck in traffic.

  • Don’t lose your temper. Road rage isn’t going to make things move any quicker and may make things more unpleasant for everyone.

Over the Rails

The week of Thanksgiving is also typically the busiest period of the year for Amtrak. Last year saw 600,000 train passengers. This year Amtrak anticipates 125,000, a spike of approximately 80 percent, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving alone, making it the busiest day of the year for Amtrak.

For the best experience during holiday travel, rail passengers should:

  • Avoid the rush. Purchase tickets in advance through Amtrak.com, QuickTraksm ticket vending machines or ticket windows at staffed stations. Advance tickets may also be purchased by calling 800-USA-RAIL. If tickets need to be picked up prior to departure, arrive at least 45 minutes early. Ticketed passengers should also arrive early.

  • Know the Limits Passengers are allowed two carry-on bags per person, not including laptops, purses and briefcases. Be sure all luggage is tagged with name an address.
  • Carry Photo ID Passengers are required to show valid photo identification when purchasing tickets. Passengers should carry their ID at all times as it may be requested aboard trains.

To help assure passengers of a more enjoyable trip, Amtrak is adding 53 extra trains during the holiday week. The majority of trains will be added on Wednesday and Sunday. Passengers should keep in mind that on routes where passenger and freight trains share the rails, freight trains have priority, increasing the likelihood of delays.

Additionally, there are more frequencies in and out of Chicago this Thanksgiving as a result of the doubling of state supported in Illinois. Along with the three Lincoln Service round trips, there are now five round trips on the Chicago St. Louis corridor, via Springfield and Bloomington-Normal, three round trips between Chicago and Carbondale via Champaign-Urbana and two round trips on the Chicago-Quincy corridor via Galesburg and Macomb, Ill.

In the western region, Amtrak has added ten trains to the Amtrak Cascades route between Portland and Seattle during the holiday week. Extra cars will also be added to select trains on the San Joaquin route between Bakersfield, Sacramento and Oakland in northern California and the Pacific Surfliner route between San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego. Reservations are required on these routes from November 21 to November 27.

“This is by far the busiest travel week of the year,” Amtrak reports.

It is going to take time for holiday travelers to reach their destinations, possibly more time than they anticipate or would prefer. With a little planning, however, time spent traveling can be a positive experience.

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