Thanksgiving travel: Nine things you need to know to avoid trouble

David McCain of Abilene, Texas, relaxes in the seats of the ticketing area for American Airlines in Terminal C at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport after his flight home was canceled. A cold front began to move into the North Texas area Sunday, which could affect Thanksgiving travel as it heads east.
(Louis DeLuca / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Times Travel editor

If you’re traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday this week, here are nine things you need to know, whether you are driving or flying.

— If you’re flying east, get ready for trouble. On Sunday, ice/snow/slush played havoc in the Southwest (especially Dallas, important to American Airlines), which caused five deaths in the Southwest and was marching toward the East Coast. Most domestic airlines will not cover hotel or expenses if your flight is delayed, so you’ll be on your own to try to arrange food and shelter.

— If your flight is canceled for whatever reason, know that you probably will have a hard time getting another flight. Domestic flight loads have averaged 84% for the first eight months of this year, according to Bureau of Transportation statistics, about what that figure was for last November. This year, Airlines for America is expecting about 25-million travelers during its Thanksgiving counting period, which runs Nov. 22 to Dec. 3. That’s about 33,000 more per day, the agency says. More travelers and fewer seats plus cancellations equal big trouble.

— You’ll be way ahead of the pack if you call an airline and talk to an agent at the first sign of trouble instead of getting in the customer service line at the airport. Make sure you have input your airline’s telephone number in your phone so you can get on the phone fast.


— For heaven’s sake, don’t leave home without cash and a credit card, no matter whether you are flying or driving. Money can’t stop trouble but it can make it more bearable.

— You may be thinking of ignoring the “get to the airport two hours before a flight” mandate. Don’t. You may be able to overcome the jam-ups at security, but oftentimes it’s the traffic at the airports that’s the issue. If you’re leaving your car at the airport, parking can be tight and shuttles full or maddeningly slow.

— If you are going to miss your flight because of something you did, call the airline (and you’ll have the number because you will have saved it after reading tip No. 3) and cancel or risk losing the value of your ticket. Yes, you’ll have to pay a change fee on most airlines (not Southwest, but it does want to be told about cancellations) that can be up to $150, but you won’t lose the full value of your ticket.

— If you do have to rebook your outbound flight, make the agent reconfirm your return flight. When one part of your ticket is canceled, often the other part is canceled as well. If the agent demurs, insist and take down all pertinent information — confirmation number, name of agent, time of discussion etc.


— Here’s some good news (finally): You’ll be paying less for your driving trip this year than last, but don’t plan your next vacation based on the savings. Gasoline prices dropped last week to $3.585 in the L.A. area (although they inched up slightly by week’s end); last year, you were paying about 40 cents more per gallon, all according to the Auto Club of Southern California. How much will you save? If your car gets 30 mpg and you’re going to San Francisco for the holiday, you’ll pay $45.65 one way. At last year’s prices, your savings are a little more than $5 one way.

— If you want to go where the crowds aren’t, the club says, skip San Diego, Las Vegas, San Francisco, the Central Coast and the Grand Canyon, the most popular destinations for SoCal travelers this holiday, according to the Auto Club.