Travelers waiting in line at Chicago Midway Airport (Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP)
The Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend is always one of the busiest travel days of the year — and yesterday was an epic one for many travelers.
More than 244 flights were canceled, at least 4,000 U.S. flights were delayed, and the line at Chicago’s Midway airport measured a whopping 1.2 miles long, snaking out the door and causing panic among travelers.
So what can you do if you’re in a similar situation?
Download the “My TSA” App. The TSA offers a free app that shows security checkpoint wait times at various airports. One warning: the information is crowd sourced, so it’s not precise. But it will still help you figure out the best time to arrive — or whether there’s one security gate that’s better to use than another.
WATCH: Stay Sane in Line for Airport Security:
Check your flight status. It seems so obvious, but many travelers don’t do this. Log onto your airline’s website or app to see if the flight is running late or if the airline is allowing travelers to reschedule because of weather delays. A couple of flight apps we love include FlightAware and Gate Guru.
A tip: if you can reschedule, you might want to take advantage and leave on another day.
There are ways to make flying the friendly skies even friendlier (Photo: Thinkstock)
Get to the airport early. Again, an obvious but easy way to reduce the hassle or flying — especially during the busy holiday season. That way, if you find yourself stuck in a 1.2-mile-long line, you won’t be worried about missing the flight because you’ve built in plenty of time.
If you encounter a long line, call the airline or send them a tweet. If you’re about to miss your flight, you might get through to a representative before you get to the front of the line. Chances are, the airline will do everything in its power to get you on the flight or switch you to the next available flight out. Airlines also monitor social media regularly. Granted, if you’re tweeting along with thousands of other travelers, as we saw yesterday, it probably won’t help.
Sign up for TSA Precheck. This one should actually be done in advance of your next trip. TSA Precheck provides dedicated lanes at over 100 airports, allowing low-risk travelers to experience expedited, more efficient security screening. Here’s how it works: you register online, then make an in-person appointment, where you get fingerprinted, pay $85, and provide proof of your name and address. If you pass, you’ll get your Known Traveler Number in a couple of weeks.
Take advantage of your elite status. Most airlines provide special check-in lines for frequent fliers; some airports have special security lines for elite fliers. Rack up all your miles with one airline loyalty program or look into airline credit cards that generally waive fees for checked bags.
Use the curbside check-in. When I’m checking a bag, this is my secret weapon — and one that a lot of travelers avoid. The lovely gentlemen outside will help you bypass lengthy bag-drop lines inside. Some airlines charge a small fee for the service; most do not. But please tip!
Check in for your flight in advance. Print out your ticket or save the mobile version of it on your phone. Don’t wait to print it out at the kiosk. If you’re running late, the last thing you want to do is wait in line at the self check-in kiosk. Most airlines let you check in the day before online, so take advantage of the option. Also, it might help in a situation like the one I recently ran into. I got stuck in a massive traffic jam en route to the airport and missed the 30-minute cut off for check luggage. A ticket agent said that if I had printed out my boarding pass, he could have snuck me on the fight.
Be nice. It goes a long way. In the situation described above, I begged and pleaded and kept my cool. Guess what? Another ticket agent took pity on me, checked my bag, and helped escort me to the front of security. I signed a waiver saying I was willing to part with my suitcase — but lo and behold, my bag still made it. Thank you, Delta! (And I’m not even an elite member.)
Stay calm. One person waiting in line took pictures and timed the wait at Midway. It only took her about 40 minutes to get from start to finish.
How to stay sane while flying during the holidays? (Photo: Thinkstock)
Make a new friend. Talking to another passenger in the same situation “will create a more positive experience and memory of the situation,” psychologist Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. and author of Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide to Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior, told Yahoo Travel.
Take pictures. We also saw this happen yesterday. Sharing your situation with the world is a great way to blow off steam. ”The act of snapping photos detaches you from the emotional stress of the situation, and you become an observer, which can calm you,” Dr. Wallin told Yahoo Travel.
WATCH: Travel Woes: Flights Canceled, Delayed