NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Next week, it's planes, trains and automobiles for millions of Americans looking to get home for the holidays. The Thanksgiving season will see about 25 million Americans take to the not-so-friendly skies, with 37% of those travelers heading out Wednesday, according to data from Airline for America, a Washington, D.C., trade association. There is a bright spot on that front, if not for the total 43.4 million Americans traveling more than 50 miles for Thanksgiving, according to AAA.
"The good news for customers is that air travel costs less in real dollars today than in 2000, and airlines are delivering strong on-time and baggage performance," says John Heimlich, chief economist with the industry trade group. "More seats are returning to the marketplace to accommodate growing demand as carriers are increasing the number of available seats by 2%." Taking flight during Thanksgiving week may still be more root canal than route destination. Big crowds, delayed flights, unpredictable weather and the big guy next to you snoring all the way from Kansas City to Key West are all potential headaches for travelers. "Travel stress can put a damper on the holidays -- which is a shame when so much of it is avoidable," said Mike Benjamin, chief executive at FlightView, a Boston day-of-travel data provider. "Travelers can get out ahead of packed airports, crowded overhead bins and changing departure times with a little preparation and the right information in their hands." To ease the travel blues, FlightView offers a few holiday travel tips for beleaguered fliers:
Opt for a backpack on board. Too many air travelers take bigger, bulkier bags aboard busy flights, virtually guaranteeing an unpleasant flight if you can't fit the bag in an overhead compartment. Instead, check bigger bags and bring a simple backpack with you for any necessities you'll need on the flight. stay on top of flight information. Most airlines offer texts, tweets and emails updating you on your flight timeline (FlightView offers a flight tracking app as well). For sudden changes in flight times, cancellations, delays, gate information or baggage claim announcement, plug in to those messages before you head to the airport. Go for "pre-check." Do you want "expedited screening benefits" at airports during the holidays? Pay $85 and sign up for the Transportation Security Administration's pre-check option to move right through crowded airport screening lines. Want Wi-Fi? Check first.More airlines are offering in-flight Wi-Fi for smartphone tablet and laptop computer users -- but not all airlines. Call ahead or check your airline's website to see your options so you can bring a magazine or a book with you if need be. Make a quick checklist. FlightView advises a host of last-minute travels tips, including: checking in the night before your flight to avoid another line; wearing security-friendly attire by avoiding belts, layered clothing and packed pockets; and bookmarking your airport's mobile website for updates on plan-altering announcements such as closed roads or full parking lots.