How Early Should You Get To The Airport For Thanksgiving Travel?

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The idea of being amongst family for Thanksgiving is so sweet that millions are willing to fly on the busiest travel weekend of the year to do it. One year I went to pick up my daughter at the airport on the Tuesday before the holiday. What is normally a 45 minute trip took me twice the time to get there — a normal delay for the week of Thanksgiving. To save yourself from unnecessary stress, it's important to calculate how early you should get to the airport for Thanksgiving travel.

If you are flying on the days around Thanksgiving, you should arrive two hours before a domestic flight and three hours for an international one, reports CNN. These estimates don't take into consideration if you are dropping off a rental car or parking far off-site (remember that with increased traffic at the airports, comes longer waits for the shuttles that take you back to the airport), and the time it takes to get there from where you've been staying, but you'll definitely want to give yourself plenty of extra time. The last thing you want is to miss your flight, because good luck getting on another.

The industry trade group, Airlines for America, is quoted in Forbes as saying that, "A record 28.5 million people will fly on U.S. airlines between Friday, November 17 and Tuesday, November 28, according to the organization’s estimates. That’s an increase of 69,000 passengers—or 3%—from last year." This means that lines will be longer everywhere — to park, drop off passengers, check luggage, and get through security.

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I'm the one who always makes my family crazy and leaves way more time than is needed, but I'd rather have extra time at the gate than be sprinting through the terminal, panicked I'm going to miss my flight. As stressful as Thanksgiving travel can be, there are a few things you can do to make the whole experience a little bit easier.


Let technology be your friend. Reserve a parking spot online to guarantee you have one. Download your airline's app to your phone to keep up with gate changes and flight delays. Genevieve Shaw Brown from Travelocity recommended on that you check in on-line for your flight within 24 hours of takeoff and print your boarding pass at home. "This allows you to secure your seat assignment, double-check for any schedule changes ... and decrease your chances of getting bumped if your flight is oversold," Shaw Brown said.

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Pack light. As tempting as it is to bring extra clothing, pare it down as much as possible and try not to check a bag. This can save you up to 45 minutes or more on both sides of the trip, not to mention baggage fees. Most places you will visit have washing machines and no one will care (or even notice) if you repeat an outfit here and there. Consider having older children (anyone out of a stroller) bring their own small suitcase with wheels.

Prep for security checks. Dress to get through security as quickly and easily as possible. Forego belts, wear slip-on shoes, empty your pockets, make sure your laptop can swiftly be removed from your bag, store toiletries in clear plastic bags and put them in the outside pocket of your suitcase. Remember, liquids must be in containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less. Infant formula is exempt from this, but make sure it is in unopened original packaging. Be aware that "liquid" also includes aerosol, gels, butters or pastes. I learned this the hard way after the TSA agent confiscated the apple butter I got at my friend's orchard, even though I protested that it was a butter, not a liquid. Since water can be so expensive in the terminal, it might be helpful to bring an empty water bottle that you can fill at the water fountains near the gate.

TSA Pre-check. Consider applying for TSA pre-check clearance. This requires an application, an $85 fee per person and an in-person appointment but a little bit of inconvenience can give you five years of being able to breeze through security on the TSA Pre-check line and is especially a time-saver if you are a frequent flyer. Of course, on Thanksgiving, it still won't be a breeze-through situation, but it will be better than the regular security line and you don't have to take off your shoes or remove your laptop — you can even wear a belt with no worries.

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The bottom line is Thanksgiving air travel is never easy. However, with a little planning and an early arrival at the airport, it can be slightly more bearable.

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