Some trips through the airport are hassle-free: no lines at check-in, a turbulence-free ride and early touchdown.
Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest time of year to fly, and that means crowds, delays, long lines and a stressful experience guaranteed to get the weekend off on the wrong foot. But it doesn't have to be that way.
With a little planning, forethought and some realism about what is needed for the trip, every traveler can take steps to make the Thanksgiving travel gauntlet less harrowing, and their holiday weekend a lot more fun.
Smart travelers have their own preferred methods of checkpoint expediency. Some have a favorite pair of traveling shoes that slip on and off easily, others have already emptied the contents of their pockets into their carry-on bags. A true sign of the travel ninjas? They keep their ID and passport in a holder around their neck, within handy reach, and don't gum up the works by storing these essential items in different pockets or bags.
Being prepared is the key to getting through security fast. "Don't think you can just sneak by with a belt on," says Sascha Segan, author of "Fly Safe, Fly Smart." "Many delays are caused by people doing things right in front of the machines that they should have done 10 minutes previously."
The Transportation Security Administration maintains a list of things you can do to get through the line faster, and their tips — pack your bag in an organized manner, wrap or bind all power cords, place coats or jackets into your bags before the scan — are good ones. But there are other steps the savvy passenger can take to speed the process along even more.
A smart traveler's preparations begin before leaving for the airport. "Complete your check-in at home, and print your boarding pass," says Douglas Stallings, senior editor at Fodor's. "This is especially important if you aren't checking bags. Then you walk straight to security upon entering the airport."
You can also research the layout of your departing and arriving airport terminals before you leave home, and check the gate numbers before you leave. Some airports have security checkpoints away from the main entrances, often near gates that are further away from ticket counters, and these can often have shorter lines.
"If you see a ball of people backed up at security, know where the other security lanes are," says David Lytle, editorial director at Frommer's. "For instance, at San Francisco International Airport, there's a security lane behind the United check-in counter that usually has about one-eighth the people."
Many frequent travelers take full advantage of the one-bag, one-personal-item rule, and bring one carry-on plus a computer bag or other smaller item that can accommodate other necessities. If you don't check a bag, you avoid the time spent checking in, and then waiting at the baggage carousel after your flight. One bag is usually all the smart traveler needs for trips shorter than one week.
Many airports are beginning to require passengers to use the newer full-body scanners. These are still controversial, and many travelers are worried about privacy issues (the scans leave nothing to the imagination). Right now passengers can opt out of the scan, but the trade-off will probably be a delay, and will definitely involve some up-close and personal contact.
Travel experts advise taking the scan if you're in a hurry. "While it's an invasion of privacy and a huge annoyance, if you ask for a pat-down instead of going through the full-body scanner, you may be delayed and touched in very personal places," says Stallings. "And you'll have all your luggage checked meticulously."
Finally, once you are through security, there are two types of people at the waiting area of an airport gate: those who line up 10 minutes before they can board, and those who remain seated and calm, catching up on e-mail or finishing a chapter in their novel. Be the second type. By booking early and choosing the closest possible row to the door, you may have to board last — and in rare cases, risk losing overhead storage space — but you'll be among the first out. The longest 15 minutes of a flight are usually the last. And since you've checked no bags, you'll be out of the airport that much sooner.