Nothing drains the joy out of the holidays like travel delays and waiting in lines.
This Thanksgiving is expected to look more like pre-pandemic holiday travel periods at Newark Liberty International Airport as more people are predicted to fly to visit family and friends.
Ongoing construction at Newark airport will add a layer of complexity with some gates closed at the old Terminal A as work progresses on the new Terminal A, so it’s best to be prepared.
“More than 1.4 million people are expected for the five day (Thanksgiving) travel period,” said Huntley Lawrence, Port Authority aviation director. “That is 84% of 2019 levels and the highest since the pandemic. There are going to be challenges in places like Terminal A where there is construction.”
Here are seven travel tips from experts to help navigate the busy Thanksgiving travel week
1. Leave early
That’s good advice all year round, of course, but more so during peak times like Thanksgiving. Both Port Authority aviation and Transportation Security Administration officials recommend arriving at the airport early to compensate for added passenger traffic.
“Our advice is plan ahead. For domestic flights arrive at least two hours ahead of departure time, international flights, leave three hours ahead of time,” Lawrence said. “Expect long lines at TSA security check points.”
2. Prepare for changes at Newark airport
If you haven’t flown from Newark airport since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Terminal A and B will be different from what you remember. This is where leaving extra time will help.
“Security checkpoint operations have changed as a result of the closure of one-third of the checkpoint lanes in Terminal A due to the ongoing modernization and redevelopment of the new Terminal A,” said Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman.
The final phases of new Terminal A construction have closed all four of the security checkpoints in the old terminal’s A1 concourse, meaning that longer wait times are anticipated, she said. The remaining checkpoint lanes are in concourses A2 and A3, which have four checkpoint lanes each.
3. Check your terminal assignment. Then check again
Also, make sure to confirm your departure terminal. Several flights are being shifted to Terminal B due to construction, Farbstein said. Travelers flying on Air Canada, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines are most likely to be affected by the current phase of construction, she said.
The new Terminal A is expected to open in Spring 2022 when the first 21 gates go in service.
4. Consider ditching the car
Parking could be in short supply this year and traffic getting to the airport can be rough at times.
“Parking has increased significantly. Just in the last holiday period, we had a number of instances where our parking facilities were full,” Lawrence said. “We are seeing a lot more parkers.”
Airport officials are expecting a heavier travel period than usual, and have seen some increases in the past few weeks, which means more cars hunting for elusive parking spaces, he said.
5. Pack smart to avid checkpoint chaos
Don’t be that traveler whose carry-on bag triggers an alert and has to be searched. Travelers need to know what should and should not be packed in a carry-on bag or checked bag by checking the TSA website, Farbstein said.
“Travelers whose items trigger an alarm at the checkpoint and have their carry-on bags flagged for a search typically state that they did not realize that they had the item with them,” she said. “Following the guidelines/tips should reduce the likelihood of a bag triggering an alarm.”
That includes packing food you’re bringing for Thanksgiving. If you can “spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it,” and it’s larger than 3.4 ounces, then it has to go in a checked bag, officials said.
Food often needs additional security screening, so TSA officials recommend placing those items in a clear plastic bag or other container. Remove those items from your carry-on bag and place them in a bin for screening at the checkpoint.
Finally, travelers should listen to TSA officers instructions while waiting in the checkpoint line. Following their advice can help travelers get through the checkpoint more efficiently, Farbstein said.
6. Carry some essentials in checked bags
Airlines are experiencing the same labor shortages as the grocery, restaurant and retail industries.
That can mean baggage delays.
Travel experts recommend packing some essentials in your carry-on bag, such as a change of clothes and prescription medications you may need, in case you’re separated from your luggage. Remember to double check TSA regulations.
7. Mask Up
Like it or not, face coverings must be worn in airports, on aircraft and shuttle buses between terminals and parking lots.
The FAA also is serious about mask enforcement and has levied costly civil fines against disruptive passengers who interfere with flight crews.
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Larry Higgs may be reached at [email protected].