Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and you’d think airlines would be celebrating the fact that even in this economy, flights are expected to be more crowded than ever—with at least 85 percent of seats occupied (and on some flights it could feel like 110 percent). But the truth is that more people are finding alternative ways to get to their turkey dinner, and air travel as a whole will be down by 2 percent. The only reason flights won’t be emptier is that the airlines have been racing to eliminate flights faster than demand falls.
On the peak travel days of Sunday Nov 27 and Monday Nov 28, there will be 35,000 fewer airline seats available than there were last year. (That’s according to the airlines trade group, the Air Transport Association.) So how to navigate this landscape of packed planes and scarce bin space without paying a fortune in fees for anything that could make this more tolerable?
•Pack smart, especially if you’re traveling with a group. This is not the time to cram everything into duffel bags and pray you’ll get it past the increasingly vigilant gate agents and into an overhead bin. If you don’t want to pay a lot in fees, try packing one large checked bag for the family (so you can carry heavy items and larger sizes of liquids and gels) and keep carry-on clutter to a minimum. Know that some airlines don’t have baggage fees: JetBlue doesn’t charge for the first checked bag, and Southwest lets you bring two for free. And keep in mind that airlines are counting on you to shell out extra fees to board first—again, in search of that most precious of commodities, a place to stash your bag. Don’t fall for this trick if you can avoid it; save the fee, pack light.
•Check in online, and pay any fees in advance.
•Sign up for your airline’s e-mail notifications of flight status—and also check flight status online before leaving for the airport.
•Arrive early—at least two hours before departure.
•Park smart. If you’re parking at the airport, call or check the airport’s website for availability; if lots are full, use an off-airport site.
•Dress smart for security: Wear easy to remove shoes and outerwear, avoid metallic items, clean out pockets.
•Have a back up plan in place: Familiarize yourself with other flights and airlines that go to your destination ahead of time.