Travel during the holidays can be stressful, but, with the right planning and a positive attitude, you can avoid turning into Ebenezer Scrooge.
AAA Mid-Atlantic estimates more than 1.2 million Philadelphia-area residents will travel 50 miles or more away from home for the holidays, a 3.2 percent increase over last year. The majority, 90 percent, will travel by car, while 6.7 percent will travel by air.
Nationally, AAA projects 107.3 million Americans will take to the skies, rails, and roads, the highest year-end travel volume on record and a 3.1 percent increase over 2016. This is the ninth consecutive year of rising winter holiday travel since the recession in 2008, AAA said.
“AAA urges everyone to pack their patience when traveling during the holidays,” said Jana Tidwell, public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Beginning Thursday and Friday especially, we will start to see commuters and holiday travelers mix. Plan for congestion and traffic no matter how you are traveling.”
Travel groups ranging from the auto club AAA, Cheapflights, and SmarterTravel to the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Philadelphia International Airport have tips for surviving the season — and making your trip happier.
- First and foremost, allow extra time and leave home early. Arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic fight and three hours before international flights.
- Follow the 3-1-1 rule for carry-on luggage. All liquids and gels brought onto planes must be in 3.4-ounce or smaller bottles inside a clear quart-size zip-top bag, with one bag per passenger. Liquid prescription medicines are exempt.
- Do not wrap gifts that go through airport security screening; you will need to unwrap them for inspection. Toys that look like real weapons in an X-ray can set off an alarm and lead to evacuations and delays. Pack water guns, toy guns, and toy swords in checked bags or ship them to the destination.
- Keep valuable and essential items with you (and not in checked luggage) — passport, money, identification, credit cards, jewelry, electronics.
- As TSA rolls out new carry-on screening procedures, you may be asked to remove personal electronic devices larger than a cellphone — and place the items in a bin with nothing on, or under, them for X-ray screening.
- Check-in flights 24 hours in advance, and print boarding passes at home. Check the flight status with the airline before going to the airport and have boarding passes and IDs ready before entering the security checkpoint. Charge phones and other electronics before leaving home.
- Pies, cookies, and solid foods are allowed in a carry-on bag. Foods that are spreadable or pourable, must follow the 3-1-1 liquids rule to be in a carry-on bag.
- If going by car, travel during off-peak times. Best time: early morning when roads are less crowded. Avoid traveling through major cities during peak times, consider alternate routes. Check car tires, battery, lights, and fluids, and include winter emergency items: deicer, shovel, ice scraper, and sand or kitty litter for traction, AAA said. Keep a full tank of gas.
- If traveling by train, book tickets in advance. Know your dining options onboard the train, and pack snacks and provisions just in case. Don’t forget phone chargers, AAA said.
Philadelphia airport has a document on its website about “things to know if you are flying out of PHL” this holiday season. TSA PreCheck security screening lanes are located in Terminals A-East, D, and E. Checkpoint C is for TSA PreCheck customers only. TSA PreCheck lets vetted travelers, for a fee, get expedited security screening without removing shoes, liquids and gels, laptops, belts, and light outerwear.
Currently, there are is no TSA PreCheck screening in Terminals A-West, B, or F, and passengers flying out of Terminal C who are not enrolled in PreCheck must go through security at Terminal B, the airport said.
If flying American Airlines, PHL recommends that passengers check their departure terminal and gate before arriving at the airport in order to know where to check in. American, which transports 70 percent of passengers here, departs from Terminals A-West, A-East, B, C, and F.
If parking at the airport, check space availability in the garages on the airport website phl.org. Drivers waiting for arriving passengers can park for free in the cellphone lot, which is a one-minute drive from the baggage-claim areas.
The airport is offering complimentary gift wrapping through Christmas Eve for purchases made at airport stores. The gift-wrapping table is across from the Terminal B-C food court.