RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Today is one of the biggest travel days of the year, with some 47 million Americans hitting the road for Thanksgiving.
That’s the highest number since 2007, according to travel agency and car lobbying group AAA. That would be a 0.6 percent increase over last year and the seventh straight year of growth.
To keep people safe, Virginia State Police are beefing up patrols in an effort to stress safe driving and counter aggressive and impaired driving.
This year, the number of fatalities on the road has increased by 19 since last year, including eight fatal crashes last Thanksgiving weekend.
VSP Spokeswoman Corinne Geller says the increased patrols will continue through Sunday night.
Along with everyone hitting the highway, Airlines for America, the lobbying group for several major airlines, forecasts 25.3 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines, up 3 percent from last year. (AAA’s forecast shows fewer numbers of fliers because it looks at a five-day period while the airline group looks at the 12 days surrounding Thanksgiving.)
If you’re flying, you should expect delays due to increased security prompted by the recent extremist attacks, analysts say. Police at several major airports around the country have heightened vigilance after the attacks in Paris that killed 129 people.
Tighter security could translate into longer lines for travelers as agents will be spending more time checking passengers and bags, analysts said.
Since flying can often cause the most disruptions and leave travelers feeling helpless, here are some tips to cope with any delays. Flights are packed around the holidays and if there is any hiccup, the difference between getting home and not can come down to asking the right questions and acting fast.
- At the first sign of a serious mechanical problem, call the airline to have it “protect” you on the next flight out. That way if the mechanical problem leads to a cancellation, you are already confirmed on a new flight and can just print a new boarding pass.
- If you miss your flight connection — or bad weather causes delays — get in line to speak to a customer service representative. But also, call the airline directly. If the phone lines are jammed, try the airline’s overseas numbers. You’ll pay long-distance rates, but might not have to wait. (Add those numbers to your phone now.) Finally, consider sending a tweet to the airline.
- Consider buying a one-day pass to the airline lounge. For one thing, there are usually free drinks and light snacks. But the real secret to the lounges is that the airline staffs them with some of its best — and friendliest — ticket agents. The lines are shorter and these agents are magically able to find empty seats. One-day passes typically cost $50 but discounts can sometimes be found in advance online.
If weather causes cancellations, use apps like HotelTonight and Priceline to find last-minute hotel discounts for that night. Warning: Many of the rooms are nonrefundable when booked, so lock in only once stuck.
- Weigh it at home first. Anything over 50 pounds (40 pounds on some airlines like Spirit) will generate a hefty overweight surcharge, in addition to the checked bag fee.
- Before your bag disappears behind the ticket counter, make sure the airline’s tag has your name, flight number and final destination. Save that sticker they give you — it has a bag-tracking number on it.
- Place a copy of your flight itinerary inside your suitcase with your cellphone number and the name of your hotel in case the tag is ripped off.
- If you can’t live without it, don’t check it. It might take days to return a lost bag. Don’t pack medication or outfits for tomorrow’s meeting or wedding. Never check valuables such as jewelry or electronics.
- Prepare your carry-on bag as if it will be checked. You might not have planned to check your bag, but given today’s crowded overhead bins many fliers don’t have a choice. Pack a small canvas bag inside your carry-on so if you are forced to check it, you can at least keep your valuables with you.
- Set up alerts for seat openings. ExpertFlyer.com offers free notifications when a window or aisle seat becomes vacant. For 99 cents, it sends an email if two adjacent seats become available. The service is available for Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines and Virgin America but not for Delta Air Lines and some smaller carriers.
- Check the airline’s website five days before the trip. That’s when some elite fliers are upgraded to first class, freeing up their coach seats. Another wave of upgrades occurs every 24 to 48 hours.
- Check in 24 hours in advance when airlines start releasing more seats. If connecting, see if seats have opened up 24 hours before the second flight departs.
- Keep looking for new seats. Even after checking in, seats can be changed at airport kiosks and on some airlines’ mobile applications.