Flight delays and flying baggage: the pre-holiday stress that’s creeping into travel

For most Americans, the holidays aren’t celebrated until they make it back home. And while airlines now offer more relief and check-in options during peak travel times, travelers heading out for Thanksgiving this year could face some new obstacles if their flights aren’t early-morning or evening-timed to land at the right airport.

Air travel is expected to increase 4.4% this year, according to AAA. About 48 million Americans will drive, fly or take buses to visit relatives, while about 10 million will visit friends and relatives from other states. And for the first time since 2012, AAA estimates that the majority of travelers will drive as opposed to fly.

Based on 2013 volumes, an estimated 46.6 million Americans will fly, 1.3 million will drive, 1.7 million will take a bus, and 600,000 will walk to their destinations.

Of the 14 major airlines, only four charge fees for checked bags, which averaged $23. This represents the first time a full third of the airlines have changed their fees for checked bags.

Halloween is a popular time for trick-or-treaters to travel. But the holidays are widely predicted to be among the busiest travel times of the year. With the fiscal year ending at the end of September, that could suggest an early start to holiday-season travel, thanks to the American work week ending on Friday.

In 2012, 4.7 million Americans left the US on the Thursday before Thanksgiving and returned on Friday. However, those numbers were counted at the airports, not the departure and arrival terminals.

Those numbers reflect a spike in US travel for the Thanksgiving period. In fact, about 7.7 million people visited between 1 November and 2 December in 2012. AAA says it’s not clear what the exact figures will be this year.

But for those determined to travel early or late, airlines are taking steps to accommodate.

From 3 November until 15 December, for instance, American Airlines passengers flying out of New York’s LaGuardia or John F Kennedy International airports can catch connecting flights in any of American’s four other New York hub airports. American’s three other New York hubs are at Newark, in New Jersey, and on Long Island and at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York.

Airlines increasingly are trying to get their travelers to depart on shorter routes, especially during weekends. US Airways, US Airways Express and American Eagle offer about a dozen times a day nonstop flights from Washington, DC, to smaller airports in Wisconsin, Missouri, Montana and Utah. These flights make it easier for travelers who live in these cities to visit relatives in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

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