With employment up and wages finally starting to rise, it’s no surprise that holiday travel is expected to hit record highs.
AAA forecasts more than 103 million Americans will travel between December 23 and January 2, an increase of about 1.5 million over last year. While the vast majority of those will drive — 93.4 million — airlines will be busy shuttling some 6 million passengers, even though airfares on average are $30 higher than last year.
Gas prices have been on the rise since October, with a national average Wednesday of $2.31 per gallon of regular, according to Gasbuddy.com, with Miami-Dade clocking in at $2.368.
Here at the end of the peninsula, most of our visitors arrive by air. Miami International Airport is expecting 2.3 million fliers though January 6, with Friday and Saturday being the busiest days, along with December 29 and 30. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport expects 1.5 million.
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TIPS FOR FLIERS
If you haven’t hit the airways lately, here’s what you need to know:
▪ At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), new smart parking technology shows travelers the number of free spaces on each floor of the parking garages, and green lights in the rows point to available spots.
▪ MIA added more than 60 TSA screening officers this past summer, and the airport said it doesn’t foresee any “significant increases” in delay times at airport security checkpoints during the winter season. Most passengers get through the checkpoints in about 20 minutes, the airport said.
▪ Still, you want to arrive early: MIA suggests arriving two hours before a domestic flight and two and a half hours before an international flight. Arrive three hours early for an international flight from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
▪ Both FLL and MIA offer the TSA Pre✓ program, which allows approved travelers to bypass some security line protocols such as removing shoes, laptops, liquids, belts or light jackets at security checkpoints. The program is open to U.S. citizens and foreign citizens who meet certain requirements and comes with an $85 fee.
▪ Both airports have upgraded their mobile apps, available for free in Apple and Android app stores. The Miami app, MIA Airport Official, allows passengers to sign up for flight alerts and uses GPS technology to direct you through the airport. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood app, FLL Airport, provides real-time flight information and parking rates, as well as maps of the airport.
▪ MIA also offers Clear, a fast-pass program that allows members enrolled to simply verify their identity via a fingerprint or iris check and skip the winding TSA lines for a faster lane instead. Membership, available to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, begins at $179 per year.
▪ Leave the Samsung Galaxy Note 7s at home. They’re not permitted on U.S. flights.
Tried and true, these familiar tips still apply:
▪ Plan your parking: If you’re leaving your car for more than a day or two, check out private long-term lots. Both airports also offer long-term, hourly and valet parking.
▪ Dress smart: Avoid clothes with belts and tie shoes, which are harder to shed at security checkpoints. And wear the heavy gear; overweight baggage fees can climb to $200 on some airlines.
▪ Save the wrapping: TSA may require you to unwrap gifts in carry-on luggage. Better to tie on the tinsel once you arrive.
▪ Check the jam: Some food items, such as cakes, sandwiches, cookies and pies, are allowed in carry-on luggage. Others, such as mashed potatoes, jams, jellies, salsa and wine, are not. If it can be “spilled” or “spread,” you can bet it will be banned. Check the TSA website for the complete list.
▪ Zip it up: For carry-on luggage, the 3-1-1 liquid rule still applies: 3 ounce bottle or less (by volume); one quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; one bag per passenger per screening bin.
▪ For free, U.S. citizens can download the app for Mobile Passport Control, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows passengers to input passport information and their customs declaration into their smart phone before reaching the airport customs desk. The app produces an Encrypted Quick Response (QR) code that gets scanned by a customs officer, slashing wait times. The app is available for MIA and FLL.
▪ U.S. citizens arriving from outside the country can use automated kiosks to cut processing time. Members of the Global Entry Program — open to U.S. and Canadian citizens as well as passengers who have an eligible visa waiver — can move through more rapidly at special kiosks.