Keep up on Thanksgiving airport traffic with Travelocity’s Task Force

Nobody is looking forward to venturing into battle tomorrow. Wednesday is the year’s biggest travel day, a congested, high stress day when airports are packed, tempers are high and any small hiccup can make an entire airport turn upside down.

We all have to get home somehow though, and the harsh reality facing many of us is that the airport needs to be handled (my flight to London leaves from O’hare at 5PM).

Luckily, Travelocity already has street teams organized to help us manage the battle. This year, while they continue to quarterback part of the effort from their affable Window Seat Blog they’re also mobilizing the Twitter army to keep an eye on specific airports across the country. Each specific feed will dispatch updates from airport including delays, parking, security lines and general mayhem that’s going on around the terminal. It’s a great way to glean some insight into what to expect when you arrive — or watch the disaster from the comfort of your own home.

Each feed can be found on the Thanksgiving Task Force subpage. Tune in now and get your fighting pants ready for Wednesday — it’s going to be a big weekend.

The scale doesn’t lie, at least not in New York

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and we’re all dreading the thought of stepping on the scale the next day … and making all kinds of empty promises about jogging and losing weight and not eating like that again next year. Some of us we’ll even unleash a stream of profanities and accuse the device of lying. Out in Queens, however, a few scales have been tested, and they won’t be fooling anyone at turkey-time.

Inspectors from the Department of Consumer Affairs have verified that the 741 luggage scales at New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports. On the first run, 92 percent were found to be in compliance, and following repairs, a re-inspection showed a 98 percent success rate. The remaining 2 percent? Don’t worry: they won’t be used until they’ve been repaired.

With the extra fees that can be triggered by hefty bags, this is a pretty serious issues, especially in a market where airlines are trying to pick up a little extra revenue and consumers have become sensitive to additional charges.

Passengers to become drivers for Thanksgiving this year

We aren’t staying at home, but we’re definitely not flying. That’s the word out of AAA this year. Thanksgiving, always a travel-heavy holiday, will see more cars in the road than people crammed at the gate, as travelers respond to the recession and recent increases in airfares.

AAA puts the number of people driving 50 miles or more from home for Thanksgiving at 38.4 million — up 1.4 percent from last year. The number of people traveling by car (regardless of distance) is set to edge 2.1 percent higher. Meanwhile, the number of people taking to the skies is expected to drop a hefty 6.7 percent. The Air Transportation Association sees the passenger count dropping 4 percent, but that’s for the “holiday period,” which stretches from November 20 to December 1. “Economic headwinds” are the primary reason, the ATA says.

The economic situation’s role in the decision to drive versus fly isn’t limited to the change in prices. Airlines have been pushing their fares up for the past few weeks, but for consumers, the decision is based on cost relative to their willingness to spend. Rick Seaney, CEO of, tells MSNBC, “A leisure traveler might have bought a domestic ticket for $350 last year. Lately, $250 has been the breakpoint; above that, they just weren’t going to buy.”

If your flight looks crowded this year, it’s probably because there aren’t going to be as many planes in the sky. Only 679 billion domestic seat miles will be offered this year, down from last year’s 730 billion, which was already cut from the year before. From 2008 to 2009, the number of available seat miles is off 7 percent.

While the economic climate is certainly a factor, AAA sees other drivers in the trend from wings to wheels. The cut routes and flights, delays and the security gauntlet have all contributed to the decline in Thanksgiving passengers since 2000 of a profound 62 percent. If the airlines didn’t think they had competition for the Thanksgiving season rush, this is an answer that can’t be ignored.

Six ways to make waiting in line better (and shorter)

The holidays are coming, and if your plans involve travel, expect to lose large chunks of your youth to the painful ritual of waiting in line. Aside from the occasional ascetic masochist, nobody digs the ol’ “hurry up and wait” game. Yet, you’ll be doing plenty of standing in line at airports, hotels and retail establishments. Last year, I wrote about what you can do to make this easier. Now, let’s turn our attention to the queue-masters – the people and organizations responsible for creating and managing what become monstrosities from late November through the end of the year.

Below, I’ll kick this off with six suggestions to airlines, airports, hotels and others in the business of making you wait in line. But, treat this as my opening offer – I’d love to get your ideas on this.

To start, here’s what I suggest:

1. Ban parallel lines: think of most grocery stores. If there are five cash registers, there are five lines. A super-efficient employee can make people in one line happy while pissing off the rest. Instead, use a single line in which the person at the front goes to the next available teller/agent/representative. This approach is gaining popularity, but some places (mostly retailers) are still living in the past.

2. Have an expediter: when lines are long, this person should help people prepare for the moment of truth. Tell those waiting to do what they need to do – from pulling out a credit card at the store (instead of digging for it) to taking laptops out of carry-ons in the security line. At the front of the line, don’t merely suggest – emphasize.

Also, sell it a little. The monotone TSA shout, “All laptops must be removed …” isn’t good enough. Instead, “Take out your laptop. Take off your coat. Get ready early. Save yourself – and everyone around you – some time.

3. Wrong sign syndrome: have you ever waited in line for half an hour only to find out it was the wrong one? Or, you had the wrong form? Then, you had to start over and wait another half our? It sucks. Clear signage can help, as well as the “expediter” mentioned above. Make the whole process idiot-proof.

A note on personal responsibility: sometimes, we know we need to be in the long line but choose the short one in the hopes that raising hell will get us bumped to the front of the other line or that our needs will somehow be handled even though we’re in the wrong place. Queue-masters, this is not your fault! To everyone else waiting in line, know where to hurl your scorn.

4. Don’t go the extra mile: it doesn’t always make sense to indulge a troubled customer. While you’re helping someone who is in the wrong place or isn’t paying attention, perhaps hundreds of people are forced to wait. Is the goodwill you gained from one person sufficient to offset this?

5. Don’t talk among yourselves: watching someone in a customer-facing position check a text message, chat on a cell phone or kibitz with another employee is beyond annoying … and on the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas, totally unnecessary. It happens, and it shouldn’t.

6. Don’t wait for a manager: if you need support, help other customers in the interim. One problem should bring everything to a halt.

Five tips for booking holiday travel

If you’re planning to fly home for the holidays this year, it’s time to start booking your flight. Even though fares are cheaper than they were last year, prices have been going up over the fast few weeks, according to a report in USA Today. Thanksgiving prices are down around 7%, with the Christmas/New Year’s season down 12% from last year. Since the travel market is still limping along, you may be able to pick up some deals. To get the most for your money, though, you’ll need to put in a little bit of effort.

1. Turkey over ham: puts the average price for a Thanksgiving ticket booked from July 1 to October 1, 2009 at $361. For the December holidays, the average was $440. Opting for the closer holiday thus can save you a few bucks.

2. Don’t be demanding: if you have the elbow room to choose different dates around the holiday (maybe visit mom and dad a little longer), you can trim a few dollars from your fare – in particular the new $10 (each way) surcharge that some major airlines are applying to flights from November 29 to 30 and December 19, 26-27 and January 2 and 3. Being flexible on airports might nab you a better deal, as well.

3. Visit, don’t move in: we’re all familiar with the extra baggage fees that airlines have come to enjoy rely on. Cut your load down to the essentials. Doing your laundry on your parents’ dime may be easier and cheaper than the local laundry dive, but your savings may disappear if you try to drag it all on the plane.

4. Use your computer: check in at home or work. The lines will be crazy at the airport anyway, so you’re actually paying yourself to have an easier trip. If this isn’t win-win defined, I don’t know what is.

5. Save a little, not a lot: pounce on reasonable fares. If you try to wait for the deal of the year, you could be stuck paying much more than you wanted. Pay a little more than you may want to pick up some predictability.

While you’re at it, start thinking about how to survive the annual airport gauntlet. For Christmas last year, I put together a list of ways to make your travel experience a bit easier. It may be worth another look.