Updated Monday, November 12, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Leaving home for Thanksgiving? More than 40 million Americans are expected to hit the road and skies. If you're among them, here's how to make the journey easier.
Construction continues throughout Sea-Tac Airport in preparation for moving airlines to new gate areas next year.
Volunteers in blue jackets and paid staffers called "pathfinders," wearing red vests and carrying iPads, will roam the airport offering assistance.
Busiest days will be the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after, when an estimated 85,000 will pass through the terminal each day.
Here are some ways to save time at airports: • Check in online or at an airport kiosk.
• Use self bag-tagging kiosks if checking bags on Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air.
• Avoid congestion at the arrivals level by using the upper-drive departures area when picking up passengers after 8 p.m. (when flight departures dwindle).
• Use flightstats.com to check on flight arrival and departure times.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) precheck lane at Sea-Tac has been moved from Checkpoint 5 to Checkpoint 3 in the center of the main terminal since the program has been expanded to more airlines.
Eligible to use the fast-screening lane are members of U.S. Customs' Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri border-crossing programs and selected frequent fliers with Alaska, Delta, American, United and US Airways. Children 12 and under can go through the precheck lane with eligible passengers.
TSA still pulls out some passengers for random full screening, but most get through without having to take off shoes, belts or jackets or remove laptops and liquids from carry-ons. Also exempt from removing shoes and jackets are passengers 75 and older and 12 or younger.
Sea-Tac has 14 "backscatter" body scanners as well as 35 metal detectors. TSA is removing backscatter scanners in some airports and replacing them with less invasive millimeter-wave machines, but so far the agency has no plans to replace the backscatter scanners at Sea-Tac, said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.
Those with concerns about radiation or privacy can refuse a body scan and opt instead for a physical pat down. Leave extra time for this because TSA has to pull agents away from other duties to do the pat-downs.
Liquids and gels packed in carry-ons must be in containers no bigger than 3.4 ounces and stored in quart-sized plastic bags.
Allowed in checked luggage are larger quantities of liquids as well as nail clippers and other items that were once banned. See tsa.gov (click on Traveler Information) for a list.
• Don't overpack. Baggage fees are hefty ($50 to $100 each way depending on the airline) for overweight bags (51 to 70 pounds) and oversize bags ($50 to $300).
• Stick to the rules allowing one regulation-size carry-on and one purse or laptop. Alaska Airlines, for example, selectively enforces a policy of charging $25, $5 more than usual, to gate check a bag too big to carry on. Keep your purse or wallet within sight or locked inside your carry-on. Never pack valuables such as cameras, iPods, cellphones, etc., in checked luggage. Airlines won't take responsibility should they be lost or stolen.
Know your rights
Federal laws don't require airlines to provide compensation, hotel rooms or meals in the case of weather-related delays or cancellations, so have a backup plan.
The law does require airlines to pay compensation should you be involuntarily bumped from a full flight and delayed more than an hour past your original arrival time. See www.dot.gov/airconsumer (click on Air Travel Consumer Reports then Travel Tips & Publications).
Take the train, bus
A new option this year for Northwest travelers is BoltBus (boltbus.com), with five to six daily nonstops between Seattle and Portland (four on Thanksgiving Day) and four to five between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. (two on Thanksgiving).
Amtrak (amtrak.com) has added extra trains between Seattle and Portland for Thanksgiving travel on Wednesday and Sunday (Nov. 21 and 25). Save time by booking online and using Amtrak's new electronic ticketing.
WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES
Passengers hurry through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport last year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, usually the busiest travel day of the year.