If the trends hold true, millions more travelers will clog an airport or roadway near you this holiday season than in 2015.
During the Thanksgiving weekend, AAA is projecting that nearly 50 million people — about 1 million more than last year — will travel more than 50 miles from home, assuming they aren’t affected by a looming snowstorm.
The increase in travel follows a trend seen on other holidays this year: over the Memorial Day weekend, when about 700,000 more vacationers left town for the holiday, and during the Fourth of July, which saw an increase of half a million travelers over 2015.
At Miami International Airport, 989,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport between Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 alone, a 2.1 percent jump over the same time in 2015. Nearly 600,000 travelers will fly in and out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport from Nov. 22 to Nov. 28, up 9 percent year over year. According to AAA, Fort Lauderdale ranks No. 8 among the top 10 travel destinations for Thanksgiving. Miami didn’t make the list.
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Tourism boosters can thank rising wages and increased consumer confidence, AAA said in a release.
But those rosy travel predictions could get derailed by weather. Earlier this week, winter storm Argos dumped more than four feet of snow on the West, Plains, Midwest and Northeast. Another two storms due to hit during the holiday weekend will be less fierce but might affect travel from the Rockies to the interior Northeast. And that could mean flight delays, though none have yet been posted.
A slew of new apps and some tried-and-true travel tips will help you navigate the roadways and flyways
In the air
New features at South Florida airports are designed to shorten lines and speed travelers from the curbside through security checkpoints.
At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, 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. 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. Leading up to Thanksgiving, TSA wait times at FLL were about 8 minutes on average, with no wait times exceeding 20 minutes, according to the TSA.
Once inside, both FLL and Miami International Airport 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 for 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 Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale app, FLL Airport, provides real-time flight information and parking rates, as well as maps of the airport.
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 even more rapidly at special kiosks.
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.
For free, U.S. citizens can also 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.
Here are some other tips:
▪ Arrive early: Miami International Airport 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.
▪ 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.
▪ Surrender the Galaxy: Leave the Samsung Galaxy Note 7s at home. They’re not permitted on U.S. flights.
On the road
About 2.3 million Floridians are expected to drive 50 miles or more from home on a road trip during the Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA. That’s 5 percent more than last year.
One reason: bargain gas prices, currently at a national average of $2.17 a gallon. That’s 12 cents higher than last year.
AAA’s mobile app, AAA Mobile, can help roadtrippers map a route, find lowest gas prices and request AAA roadside assistance.
Other useful apps, such as WAZE and Google Maps, offer real-time traffic updates. WAZE also includes user-generated information about issues on the roads, such as stopped road jams, accidents, stopped over vehicles and police presence.
Early this month, Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades became the first cruise port in the country to launch Mobile Passport Control. For now, it’s only available on iOS devices.
What’s open and closed on Thanksgiving Day and Friday
Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. Here's a list of what's open and closed Thursday and Friday:
Federal offices: Closed Thursday.
State offices: Closed Thursday and Friday.
Miami-Dade County offices: Closed Thursday and Friday.
Broward County offices: Closed Thursday and Friday.
Miami-Dade courts: Closed Thursday and Friday.
Broward courts: Closed Thursday and Friday.
Public schools: Closed Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Post offices: Closed Thursday.
Stock markets: Closed Thursday. Open until 1 p.m. Friday.
Bond market: Closed Thursday. Open until 2 p.m. Friday.
Banks: Most are closed Thursday.
Miami-Dade libraries: Closed Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Broward libraries: Closed Thursday and Friday.
Tri-Rail: Weekend schedule on Thursday, normal schedule on Friday.
Miami-Dade and Broward transit: Sunday schedule.
Miami-Dade garbage collection: Normal schedule.
City of Miami garbage collection: Normal schedule.
Broward garbage collection: No collection for Broward Municipal Services District on Thursday. All other municipalities should contact their city or hauler directly for scheduling information.
Malls: Most open at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Supermarkets: Winn-Dixie, Sedano's, Milam's, Walmart, and Kmart are open Thursday. Publix, Publix Sabor, and Costco are closed Thursday.
Miami Herald Staff