The industry group Airlines for America is predicting that 65,000 more people PER DAY will fly this year than last, between November 20 and December 1. That's an uptick of 3%, and the greatest number of air passengers since the recession of 2008.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
And be smart about how you're going to handle your own travel plans. Here are our tips:
1) Avoid flying November 25, 29 and 30. Those are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday and Monday after it. Those dates are expected to be the busiest flying days this year.
2) Try to fly as early in the day as possible. Holiday travel season is also storm season. And when storms hit, delays ripple through the system, because airplanes often make several stops in the course of a day. If you're in say, Miami you're much more likely to get where you're going if your plane has overnighted in balmy Florida than you are if it has to fly from snowy Denver to you and then on again. This is especially true if you're on an afternoon or evening flight. So get up early and get going if you want to get where you're going.
3) Be strategic about connecting airports. At holiday time it's best to avoid them all together, because the more times you have to take off, the more chances you have for your flight to be delayed or cancelled. If you must change planes, do so in an airport that's less prone to weather delays.
4) Give yourself extra time at the airport. Security lines will be nightmarish this holiday season. You can check http://apps.tsa.dhs.gov/mytsa/wait_times_home.aspx to see, in real time, what the lines will be like at your security gate.
5) Strategize parking: Many airports simply don't have enough of it. So consider getting someone else to take you to the airport (whether it be a friend, a cabbie or an Uber driver); or look into one of the off-site lots that have shuttles to the airport. Some of the latter may require advance reservations at holiday time.
6) Dress appropriately: Wear shoes that slip on and off easily, and avoid belts and jewelry that can set off alarms. You don't want to be the person who's making that security line even slower than usual
7) Think like a TSA staffer: By which I mean, don't bring anything that could be used as a weapon in your carry on, even if it isn't a weapon. I once had to sacrifice a lovely cutting board that I was bringing as a gift simply because its weight made it potentially lethal.
8) Get apped up: Certain apps can be invaluable when things go wrong at the airport. These include FlightBoard which will show you all of the gate numbers for 4000 airports worldwide (it updates the info every 5 minutes); Flight View or Flightaware which will track, in real time, where your airplane actually is (often the users of this app know how long a delay will be before the gate agents); Twitter which is the most public way to get your airline to fix a problem (and therefor one of the most effective); and GateGuru which has detailed airport maps, telling you where services and food are, as well as real-time security checkpoint waiting times.
9) Pack food. Delays are endemic at holiday time and you don't want to get stuck eating overpriced, often mediocre airport food, if you can help it. This is especially important if you're traveling with picky children.
10) Travel light: More fliers will mean more lost luggage. So travel carry-on only if you can. If you must pack, put half your gear in your travel companion's luggage and have half their stuff in your bag, so that neither of you is underwearless should one of the bags go astray. In addition, carry any valuables or prescription drugs on your person, never in your checked bag.