BY PERRY BROTHERS
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The crunch of people in planes, trains and automobiles during Thanksgiving week makes travel planning critical.
With less than two weeks left until T-day, a few travel tricks could ease the tension for last-minute planners. Even prepared travelers should heed several holiday travel tips to avoid a bumpy ride.
The low gas prices of late could be good news for drivers on regional holiday road trips. Amtrak has a few Thanksgiving week seats left on the Cardinal (the only train with a stop in Cincinnati), but those looking to fly should act fast.
''There are a few seats remaining even though this is going to be a heavy time,'' said Dave Anderson, spokesman for Delta Air Lines, which handles roughly 90 percent of the air travel from the Cincinnati - Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Tim Smith, spokesman for American Airlines, said understanding the holiday travel patterns and being flexible can help travelers get to their destinations.
HOLIDAY TRAVEL TIPS
The American Society of Travel Agents recommends the following holiday travel strategies for a smooth trip: |
Book your ticket as soon as possible. If circumstances force you to book at the last minute, remember, you have options. The key to securing the best deal is flexibility - ask your travel agent to check into holiday fares and flights on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Consider flying into an alternative airport and renting a car, or consider connecting flights.
If possible, book an assigned seat in advance.
Get to the airport early. Many flights are oversold during the holiday season. Those arriving earliest on an overbooked flight stand the greatest chance of getting onboard.
You may want to opt for a paper ticket during the holidays. If you are holding an electronic ticket and your flight is canceled, you will have to go to a ticket counter and have a paper ticket reissued before you are assigned another flight.
If you get bumped from a flight, know your rights. The department of Transportation requires that airlines first ask for volunteers willing to go on later flights. If you are bumped involuntarily, the airline must give you a written statement describing your rights, provide alternative travel plans and compensation if your new arrival time is more than one hour later than your scheduled arrival time.
Know baggage limits and make sure gifts remain unwrapped, in case of an inspection.
Keep a close eye on all belongings.
''Thanksgiving travel is always, as are most holidays, a case where you have periods of extreme peaks and valleys of demand,'' Mr. Smith said. ''Sunday after Thanksgiving - huge travel day. Tuesday and Wednesday before - huge travel day.''
Many airlines are offering holiday travel deals to fill the seats during the valleys - the Monday before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after and to a lesser extent, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving Day 1997 was Delta's busiest ever at the Great Cincinnati - Northern Kentucky International Airport.
''Somebody that's just making plans is more than likely going to be relegated to those off-peak days,'' Mr. Smith said.
But low-price opportunities abound in those off-peak times, sometimes making plane travel just as, or more, economical as driving. American is offering several off-peak Thanksgiving deals for $108 to $298 round-trip. Those deals require as little as one-day advance booking (not same-day bookings), and the price, of course, depends on the destination.
Amy Frede, spokeswoman for AAA Cincinnati, said several airline specials offer inexpensive fares as long as the passenger departs Monday and returns Friday.
The standard travel tips apply when searching for low fares and available flights.
Lori Haines, of Anderson Township, chose an alternative airport (Dayton) to lower the fares for her family getaway to Palm Springs, Calif.
Although she booked tickets five weeks ago, some wrangling was required to complete the plans.
''There were flights available; I used the fare tracker through the Internet and then called the airline directly. We were able to get three tix at one price and a fourth ticket at a much higher price,'' said Mrs. Haines, who booked the tickets five weeks ago.
Ultimately, her husband booked the fourth ticket at about the same price through his company's travel agency, showing that persistence and comparison shopping can pay off.
After a ticket is booked, travelers should prepare for the hassles of holiday travel.
Ted Bushelman, Cincinnati airport spokesman, said the airport plans to have extra help in its shops, restaurants and parking operations, but the amount of traffic going through the airport makes it necessary for travelers to arrive earlier.
''I'd arrive at the airport an hour-and-a-half before your flight,'' he said. ''I always believe during these rushes it's easier for people to just have someone drop them off if at all possible.'' And when you arrive, keep in mind the carry-on policy, Mr. Anderson of Delta said. Most airlines restrict passengers to two items that must fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment.
''Everyone's going to be fighting for space in that overhead compartment,'' he said.