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The very busy Thanksgiving travel week is here and it is shaping up to be a doozie. Not only will there be the increased number of traveling families as far as the eye can see at the check-in counter, but it seems that Mother Nature has some special excitement in store courtesy of “Winter Storm Cato” that looks like it will bring rain, snow, and a slushy mix to various points all along the East Coast starting late tonight, and certainly by Wednesday.
Novice traveling families, full planes, weather issues, and more can make for a less-than-ideal travel situation at the airports this week, but it doesn’t have to be terrible. Here are eight tips for Thanksgiving travel.
1. Follow weather and delays closely and proactively try and get ahead of them.
Airlines are already announcing weather waivers in advance of this winter storm, so take them up on their offer to get an earlier flight at no additional charge. If you need to go to/from the East Coast, go today if at all possible instead of tomorrow. For example, United is waiving change fees and fare differences for those ticketed to travel on November 26th to/from impacted airports as long as they commence travel by November 28th. This means if you were scheduled to fly Wednesday when the weather is expected to be the ugliest, you can leave today if there are seats available in the cabin you are ticketed in. American Airlines and others have similar policies, so I would put checking into this as Priority #1! Finish packing your bags and head out as early today as you can.
2. Double check your seat assignments.
With people trying to get ahead of the storm, seat assignments may get even more tricky than normal. My advice is watch your seat assignments like a hawk if your kids are still at an age where you need to be seated next to them. If for some reason you don’t have seats assigned next to each other, then be ready to beg and barter on-board for a couple of seats together. Read this post for more tips on getting and keeping your seats together.
On the flip side, if sitting next to your family is a “nice to have” at this point and not imperative, then please try to be flexible to accommodate others who still have little children (if asked) who may be scrambling to sit together due to cancellations and last minute flight changes.
3. Know your lounge access and use it.
If you have lounge access thanks to a co-branded credit card that gives ongoing access (like the American Airlines Citi Executive Card or Amex Platinum card) or even just one-time use passes that some credit cards send out annually (like the United MileagePlus Explorer Card), then bring them and use them. Lounge access may be your best friend in the event of delays, or even just to get away from the gate area for a little bit on a longer connection. Don’t forget that cards like the Ink Plus give two complimentary lounge visits per year via the Lounge Club (then $27).
4. Use available airport services to breathe easier.
If there is curbside baggage check-in available, use it (and try to get someone to drop you off at the airport, too). The lines to check bags inside the terminal may be longer, and the quicker you can free yourselves of hauling bags, the better. Just be sure to tip a couple of dollars. If you are eligible for Pre-Check remember to use it, and pay attention because it is still being given out randomly. My parents both received Pre-Check randomly yesterday, so look at your boarding pass before deciding which security line to head toward. Remember that children 12 and under can go through Pre-Check without being selected or eligible as long as they are with an eligible adult.
5. Have your gadgets charged and airline numbers/apps loaded.
At some airports, power outlets may be in short supply, so be sure to head to the airport with all of your electronic gadgets fully charged. This will help not only keep the family entertained while waiting for your flight, but it may also be essential if there is a need to contact the airline to try and get alternate flight plans in the event of major delays or cancellations. Having the airline’s app loaded can also help as you may be able to make the changes you need right there without talking to anyone, but also have the phone number available as that can be faster than waiting in a long line at the airport. If there is a problem that necessitates a change in plans, become proactive immediately either at the airport or over the phone and offer suggestions of alternate flights that would work for your family.
6. Bring everything you need to keep the kids entertained, fed, clean, and happy-ish
We already know there are going to be some flight delay issues this week thanks to weather, so that is a good reminder to pack everything you need for your kids for the duration of the flight, and then some. If you think two diapers will suffice for the duration of the flight, pack six. If you think one bag of goldfish will be enough, pack three. You understand the idea…. If you are stuck in a delay the airline is not going to be able to meet your family’s needs for food, entertainment, diapers, etc. so be prepared with everything you need and then some.
I don’t like checking bags at all, but it is worth checking some bags in order to be sure you have everything you need in your carry-on to meet the needs of small children on-board the aircraft.
If you are traveling with young children or babies, check out this post for some additional travel tips specific to that age range.
7. If all heck breaks loose, use the benefits on the card you used to pay for travel
Many rewards credit cards offer some pretty solid trip delay or interruption coverage when you use them to pay for your trip. I wrote an article recently about this coverage for Money Talks News that you can read here. Your credit card may offer some assistance with additional expenses incurred due to delays, even when the airline won’t, so be sure to know what card you used to pay for your trip so that you can utilize those benefits if all heck breaks loose and you end up stuck somewhere for the night unable to get to your final destination.
8. Smile and be thankful.
This is easier said than done, but many of us are traveling this week because of Thanksgiving. Being thankful and kind isn’t limited to while we are sitting with family in front of a juicy, golden turkey on Thursday. Even if things don’t go 100% smoothly along the way, try and be thankful (or at least kind) for everyone you encounter who is working this week to help get you where you need to be. The gate agents, flight attendants, TSA employees, and more are all working on a week that many of us have off, so a little kindness can go a long way.
Being nice to other travelers is also priceless because many of them probably don’t travel as frequently as you might, so they may not be as knowledgeable about the process, and may be more anxious about how their kids will do on the plane.
I look forward to flying with my daughter today and will try to keep these tips in mind as we get to the airport a little early and with a little extra patience and kindness. Safe travels and Happy Thanksgiving!
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.