Tips for Thanksgiving travelers who will face pre-pandemic levels of congestion at airports and on roadways

AAA forecasts about 2.7 million Thanksgiving travelers in Illinois. And yes, pie can be carried aboard airplanes.

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Travelers at O’Hare and Midway Airports can expect pre-pandemic levels of business, and then some, this Thanksgiving season.

Travelers at O’Hare and Midway Airports can expect pre-pandemic levels of business, and then some, this Thanksgiving season.

Sun-Times file

Before delving into serious Thanksgiving travel tips for a holiday that’s expected to reflect pre-pandemic pandemonium — let’s get a few details about traveling with pie out of the way.

If you ever wondered if you can bring a Thanksgiving pie with you on an airplane, the answer is yes, even if the inside is gooey.

“We’re not going to cut open your pie,” said Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Jessica Mayle.

When it comes to other foods you might want to carry on, though, if you can spread it, spill it or spray it — it needs to go into your checked baggage.

“Things like gravy, cranberry sauce and wines need to be checked,” she said. “But casseroles and macaroni and cheese are OK to carry on.”

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s important to recognize what several experts said is perhaps the single most important tip for surviving the busiest travel time of the year — bring patience and good cheer.

With so many things that could go sideways with a system that’s stressed to the max, not to mention the weather, sometimes your attitude is the only thing you have control over.

Travel expert John DiScala, who runs a travel blog called Johnny Jet, says his daughter’s favorite cartoon character, Daniel Tiger, sings a song that could be helpful for frustrated travelers and it goes like this: “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.”

Other top frustration-mitigation techniques include: arriving at the airport two hours early and signing up for TSA PreCheck so you can breeze through security without the hassle of emptying your bag or taking off your shoes. Also remember to avoid packing liquids that are more than 3.4 ounces in your carry-on bag — with the exception of nursing parents or others with medical needs.

A total of 272,610 travelers in Illinois are expected to fly — an increase of about 19,000 passengers compared with 2019, before the pandemic struck, according to travel projections released by AAA.

The AAA tally accounts for a five-day period from Nov. 23 to 27.

The projected number of drivers this year, at 2,442,818, is slightly less than pre-pandemic numbers from 2019 when 2,583,327 took to the road.

To escape the worst congestion, avoid being on the road between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving and between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, according to AAA.


Figures on Thanksgiving travel released by AAA.


The weather looks good for travelers, at least locally.

Forecasts in the Chicago area through Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, call for temperatures mostly in the 40s and zero chance of precipitation, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Zachary Yack.

“Another good thing is airlines have added tens of thousands of workers, and they’re no longer sticking their necks out and scheduling flights without assurances they would have staff to operate them like they did this summer,” said transportation expert Joseph P. Schwieterman, who teaches at DePaul University.

Mayle also likes to point out that new machines akin to hospital CT scanners that are in place at both O’Hare and Midway airports provide TSA screeners with 3D images of items inside carry-on bags — lessening the need to unpack bags to see what’s inside and holding up lines.

When it comes to traveling with kids, which travel expert and “View from The Wing” blogger Gary Leff does regularly, the importance of bringing enough snacks with you to the airport cannot be overstated. He also comes with a charged tablet for his wee one, a backup battery and charging cord.

“Of course, this means schlepping more things, which complicates things even more, but plan to rely on yourself as much as possible,” he said.

Expect long lines not just at security and baggage check but also for food service. Leff recommends ordering ahead using a restaurant’s app, like the one he uses for Tortas Fronteras at O’Hare.

“And if you’re in a pinch and worried you’re going to miss a flight, don’t be afraid to ask fellow travelers if you can skip ahead in line a little bit,” Leff said.

Also, it pays to have a backup plan. Leff says that he will sometimes book another flight to the same destination for later in the day in case his original flight gets canceled. He usually ends up canceling the backup flight, but he knows that by paying an extra $30 or $40 to book a regular or standard seat he’s afforded the option to rebook it within a year.

“And, again, I can’t emphasize enough, patience and being nice. You want airline staff to help you. Being kind in difficult situations I find pays off in multitudes,” he said.

DiScala also circled back to this point several times.

“I usually bring three bags of chocolate, one for gate agents, one for flight attendants and one for me,” he said.

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