Whether you’re planning to take a plane, train or automobile for your Thanksgiving travels this year, experts recommend you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Fifty-five million travelers are expected to head out between Friday and Nov. 26, according to projections from AAA. The Transportation Security Administration expects to break records on Nov. 26 with 2.9 million travelers descending on airports across the country.
“People are just more confident to get out there and travel again since the pandemic,” said Doug Shupe, corporate communications manager for the Automobile Club of Southern California, the local AAA affiliate. “We are actually going to be over 2019 numbers.”
Shupe said AAA projects an increase of 3.5% in the number of travelers in Southern California for Thanksgiving over the previous year, the second increase in two years. For LAX, up to 2.5 million passengers are expected to pass through the airport during the 10-day holiday travel window, an increase of 300,000 passengers from 2022.
Joe Brancatelli, a veteran travel writer who blogs at Joe Sent Me, said Thanksgiving is one of the most difficult holidays to navigate for travel because everybody has the same deadline.
“Everybody needs to be somewhere on Thursday,” Brancatelli said, “and everybody, regardless of religion, race or outlook, is celebrating.”
Here are tips shared by the experts to help with traveling this holiday season.
Most travelers in Southern California are planning to drive. Shupe said out of 4.6 million people traveling in Southern California for the Thanksgiving holiday, 3.9 million will opt to drive over flying or using another mode of transit.
“We’re going to see the candy-cane freeways here in Southern California, particularly Tuesday, Wednesday and likely Sunday as folks return home,” Shupe said, referring to the notorious aerial images of Los Angeles highway traffic during the Thanksgiving rush.
If you’re driving, rise and shine, and be on your way. Shupe recommended leaving as early as possible in the day to avoid commuter traffic. Brancatelli agreed, saying, “The one advantage of driving: You control the schedule.”
AAA projects Wednesday afternoon and evening will be the busiest times for Southern California highways, with the 5 Freeway between Los Angeles and Bakersfield the most impacted roadway. Sunday traffic on Highway 15 between Highway 10 and San Diego is also expected to be highly impacted.
Inspect your vehicle. Shupe said AAA expects to assist 90,000 stranded drivers between Wednesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, many due to vehicle malfunctions.
He recommends checking, at minimum, your vehicle’s tire tread and inflation, car battery health and lights, and getting necessary repairs before heading out.
Do your research. “Be your own best travel agent,” Brancatelli said.
Among things to research, especially if you are flying: the weather outlook for where you’re traveling, what hotels are available if you get stuck somewhere overnight, and what food options are available nearby.
Have alternative routes in mind. Before leaving for your flight, know what other flights from the airport are heading to your destination that day, in case you face delays or cancellations.
“If there’s a screw-up on your particular flight, don’t expect them to have the alternatives to hand you,” Brancatelli said. “Do your homework now.”
If you’re flying, arrive at the airport early. Brancatelli said travelers should aim to arrive at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights.
For those traveling through LAX with time to kill, The Times recently published a guide for how to best explore two miles within the infamous airport. It includes breakfast joints, art and the best selfie-taking spot.
Check into your flight online. A simple way to save time is to check into your flight ahead of time using the airline’s app or website, instead of joining the line at a kiosk before going through security.
Travel without a checked bag. Brancatelli also says avoiding traveling with a checked bag can help make for a smooth trip.
“The reason why you wouldn’t check a bag is that eliminates one of the foul-up points,” Brancatelli said. “If you can carry [it] on, you’re much more flexible.”
Pack food. TSA regulations don’t allow water or other liquids through security, but Brancatelli recommends packing something high in protein and low in fat to help tide you over at the airport. It’s also a cheaper alternative to airport fare.
Show gratitude to those working the holidays. “The employees are going to be very stressed and heavily overworked, and that’s assuming if everything works fine,” Brancatelli said.
Shupe agreed: “Practice patience and remain positive, even if things don’t go as expected; remember that, a lot of times, this is not the fault of the folks that are working these holidays to get you to your destination.”