Sky Talk

Your guide to Thanksgiving travel

Star-Telegram

Get ready to face a crowded plane, long security lines and full parking lots if you’re traveling by air this Thanksgiving.

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport expects 1.89 million passengers to travel through the airport between today and Dec. 1, up 2.7 percent from last year. Travelers should be prepared to encounter construction as the airport continues major renovations to its terminals and parking garages.

“We’re expecting a busy travel season for Thanksgiving this year, as we always have, so we’re doing a lot of things to help folks prepare for the Thanksgiving travel period,” said DFW Airport spokesman David Magaña.

Nationwide, more than 25.3 million passengers will fly to their destination for Thanksgiving, according to the trade group Airlines For America. That is up 3 percent from last year, the most travelers over the holiday since 2007.

Roads will also be busy. AAA Texas predicts that 3.7 million Texans will travel more than 50 miles for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 1.4 percent from last year. Most are expected to go by car, about 3.4 million, the auto industry group said.

If you’re heading out to the airport to catch a flight before your turkey dinner, here are five tips to make your holiday travel a little easier.

1. Get there early

With thousands of travelers expected each day at DFW Airport, including families that may not fly frequently, experts suggest arriving early.

By getting to the airport about two hours ahead of time for domestic flights and two-and-a-half hours for international flights, you will have plenty of time to find parking, check luggage and get through security lines.

At DFW, there are multiple security checkpoints at each terminal to help lessen line congestion. However, some checkpoints may be closed in Terminals A, B and E due to airport’s ongoing terminal renovation project, and some gate areas are under construction.

The airport’s upgraded mobile app now includes step-by-step directions to help customers find their way to open checkpoints, restrooms, shops and restaurants in each terminal. DFW also has free travel lounges, two yoga studios and kids’ play areas for travelers.

And if you see a giant orange frame in the shape of a gift box, Magaña said, take a photo of yourself in it and tweet it to #dfwfindjoy. Airport staff will be monitoring the hashtag and delivering free gifts to random customers as part of a social media marketing promotion.

2. Parking

DFW Airport has over 42,000 parking spaces but it always seems like you can’t find an open space when you need one.

Finding an open spot at Terminal D or at the new Terminal A parking garage has been made easier by a new parking guidance system. Above each parking space is a light that is green if the space is open and red if the space is occupied. Terminal A’s new garage opened over the summer and has more than 7,500 parking spaces close to the terminal.

And for customers who arrive on Nov. 22 or Nov. 23, the airport will charge only $10 a day for terminal parking for the length of the stay. Usually, the airport charges $22 a day for terminal parking.

If you’re flying out of Terminal E on Spirit Airlines, Delta Air Lines or United Airlines, the airport suggests parking in the Express South lot since a significant portion of Terminal E’s garage has been torn down and is under construction. The passenger drop-off and pick-up lanes at Terminal E have also been reduced to one lane, creating congestion.

3. Unwrap your gifts, pie is okay

The security line always seems to move slowly at an airport.

But the Transportation Security Administration has expanded its TSA Pre-Check program which allows passengers who are in trusted traveler programs or are considered low-risk to move more quickly through security screening by keeping their shoes, belts and light jackets on and laptops in their carry-on bags. DFW Airport is one of over 100 airports in the U.S. that has Pre-Check lines.

For travelers who plan to take gifts with them during the holidays, the TSA suggests keeping the gifts unwrapped in their carry-on luggage.

“If there’s something in the gift that needs to be inspected, we may have to open it. Our officers try their best not to mangle the gift wrap, but it’s not a guarantee and it also slows down the line for everybody else when we have to do this,” the TSA says on its website.

And if you’re responsible for bringing the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner, the TSA says it’s okay to take the pie through security. But cranberry jelly or turkey gravy aren’t allowed as part of the ban on liquids in carry-on bags, according to the TSA’s allowable food list.

4. Dallas Love Field

With the Wright Amendment restrictions lifted in 2014, Southwest Airlines has added dozens of long-haul flights and now has 180 daily flights at Dallas Love Field.

For those who plan to drive to the airport near downtown Dallas, the small 20-gate terminal is easy to navigate through security and to the gate area.

However, parking is scarce. Last Thanksgiving, all of the parking lots at Love Field were full, and some travelers had to park in no-parking zones in the garages.

The city of Dallas hopes a new remote parking lot that opened in September will help ease the parking problem this holiday season. The new lot, which costs $6 a day, is at 6814 Harry Hines Blvd., just north of Mockingbird Lane, and has 1,300 parking spaces. The airport runs a shuttle bus from the parking lot to Love Field, which takes about 15 minutes.

Love Field is building a third parking garage, which is expected to open in late 2017. The airport currently has 7,000 parking spaces in two parking garages adjacent to the terminal.

5. Once you’re on the plane

Airlines always add more flights during the holidays to accommodate more passengers, but don’t expect to find an empty middle seat on your flight.

Travel experts say travelers should be patient during boarding as it often takes longer for less-frequent travelers to get settled in their seats.

Gate agents also often offer to gate-check carry-on luggage as the aircraft begins to run out of room in the overhead bins, so be prepared to give up one of your bags.

“Once you get on, just be patient with other travelers. Give yourself enough time to get settled in your seat,” said American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. “We do expect for things to be very busy this holiday season.”

Most airlines offer Wi-Fi connections for a fee during flights or streaming media to keep you or your kids entertained at 37,000 feet. Not all seats have power ports or USB connections, so experts suggest having all of your electronic devices fully charged before you get on the plane.

Using weather apps on your mobile phone as well as knowing ahead of time about flight options can also ease the stress of possibly missing a connecting flight, said Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of supplier relations at CheapOAir.

“If you’re connecting through a major hub like Chicago and there is bad weather, you can look at alternative flights in advance,” Spagnola said.

And if you have small kids

For young kids who have never traveled before, going through security at the airport can be scary.

Magaña suggests parents “play airport” with toddlers and young children before their vacation and take them through the steps of parking the car, getting tickets, checking bags and then walking through security.

“If you play that at home with your Fisher Price set, it is really effective in helping them understand,” he said.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

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