Thanksgiving Travel Tips: Don’t Be a Turkey, Plan Ahead

AAA predicts air travel will increase 80 percent nationwide over 2020

By Eric Heyl

Published November 15, 2021

Read Time: 3 mins


Plan on wearing a mask and don’t attempt to sneak mashed potatoes onto your flight.

Those are just two important tips for the tens of thousands of travelers who will use Pittsburgh International Airport to visit family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. Airport, Transportation Security Administration staffers and airline COVID-19 protocols haven’t changed much since last Thanksgiving, but the number of travelers compared to 2020 almost certainly will.

AAA forecasts Thanksgiving air travel to be up about 80 percent from last year, just 9 percent below 2019 levels. About 4.2 million people are expected to fly for the holiday nationwide.

“We expect a busy holiday season here because so many people didn’t go home to see loved ones last year,” said Samantha Stedford, director of Customer Experience at PIT.

Tips for stress-free flying

Airport and TSA staffers offer lots of advice for holiday travelers. Give yourself time. You might have to hunt longer for a space in the airport garage or lots, unless you reserve parking online to save both time and money.

That also means a return to more traditionally long holiday security lines. For those that haven’t traveled in a while, federal regulations require travelers to wear masks anywhere in the airport and while onboard an aircraft.

Food follies. During Thanksgiving week, many passengers travel with food meant for holiday dining. Be aware of TSA regulations regarding what edibles can be taken onboard and what has to be checked.

Items such as turkey, baked goods, vegetable side dishes and stuffing are permitted through security checkpoints. But if you’re taking wine, gravy, cranberry sauce, canned fruits and vegetables with liquid in them and, yes, mashed potatoes, you need to check them.

“If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, then it should go into a checked bag,” TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said.

Gifts and guns. If you’re thinking of taking presents on your trip, Farbstein recommends using gift bags instead of wrapping paper.

A wrapped item could set off a security alarm in carry-on or checked luggage, and a TSA officer might have to unwrap it to ensure it doesn’t pose a threat. That wastes time, tape and your excellent wrapping skills.

Attempting to bring a gun through the checkpoint also could trigger a delay, so don’t mistakenly pack one in your carry-on. If you’re unsure what items are required to be checked, go to the TSA website, download the MyTSA app or tweet @AskTSA.

Help on the web, in the airport. If you’re uncertain when you should arrive at the airport (two hours before your flight), how long the security lines are, whether your flight has been delayed or any other issue, be sure to consult the airport website.

If you have questions once you arrive, information desks are located in both the Airside and Landside terminals. Also, volunteers staff the Ambassador desk in baggage claim and other areas. They direct passengers and visitors to appropriate personnel, assist special needs individuals and generally are able to answer most queries.

“They are amazing customer service representatives,” Stedford said.

Get a bite before your flight. The Airside Terminal’s eateries are open but some have curtailed hours due to the nationwide restaurant staffing shortage.

That doesn’t mean you need to bring a cheese sandwich from home to devour while waiting to board, though. The airport frequently updates a list of its restaurant operating hours.

With the proper research, getting to Grandma’s house via the sky should be no more stressful than getting there by going over the river and through the woods.

“People should be fine if they remember to plan ahead as much as possible,” Stedford said.

Especially when it comes to those mashed potatoes.

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