Surviving Thanksgiving Flying as a Frequent Flyer (and even some perks!)

There’s a reason this may not be the first Thanksgiving flying article you see around this time frame. Flying over Thanksgiving can be very stressful due to quite a few factors. First, the sheer number of people. From CNBC “Airlines for America estimates 28.5 million people will fly U.S. airlines between Friday, Nov. 17, and Tuesday, Nov. 28”. Second, and most importantly for me, the flyers over Thanksgiving are not experienced travelers.

So the normal tips for surviving Thanksgiving travel don’t apply to frequent travelers. We have a whole different approach.

I may be having an anxiety attack just looking at this picture

How to Survive Thanksgiving Travel as a Frequent Flyer

Most of you reading are probably experienced travelers. And for us flying over any holiday is just as frustrating as it is for the inexperienced flyers. I fly often for work and for fun, and I have my routine down. I get dropped at the door closest to the security station for my gate, have my mobile boarding pass, have my TSA Pre-Check loaded of course, shoes on that won’t set off the metal detector when going through Pre-Check line, etc.

Then…there’s everyone else. And listen, I get it. If I flew once a year it would be confusing and complex. Heck at this point I barely remember what regular security is like. But it’s so frustrating when you have a TSA officer yelling “TAKE EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR POCKETS”. Someone goes through the body scanner and then says “oh wait, you mean my phone too?”. No, when they said “everything” they clearly didn’t mean your cell phone too, SMH.

So what to do about it?

Think of the positives

Because so many travelers are inexperienced over the holidays think of the positives! There are virtually no business travelers which means:

  1. Shorter Pre-Check lines
  2. Much better chance of an upgrade – I’ve often been upgraded as a lowly American Gold on cross-country routes that on a normal Tuesday would have me #35 on the waitlist
  3. Easier access to elite only seats
  4. The normal crowd of 50 during elite boarding is more like 5
  5. Less crowded lounges BUT more families in lounges so this one may be a draw
KLM Lounge Houston - Main Seating Area
A much better chance at a non-crowded Priority Pass lounge like KLM Houston

Avoid Everyone Else

Yup, I said it. Be the Grinch. The key for surviving Thanksgiving travel is to put your blinders on when you move through the airport. This Thanksgiving I am flying Tuesday-Sunday. Certainly not ideal. And PHX-DTW isn’t exactly what I’d like to spend $500/ticket on when you can routinely find flights to Thailand for around that amount these days when monitoring sales.

So I will be bringing two pairs of backup headphones, some snacks, using the restroom before I go, and bee-lining it to the lounge which hopefully should be less crowded due to lack of business travelers.


Relatively self-explanatory. When there are normal flight delays on a Monday morning the business travelers mostly just sigh, shrug, and answer work emails while sitting on the tarmac. When you’re on a flight home the Sunday after Thanksgiving toddlers have much less patience (which I certainly don’t blame them for, they are kids!).

Since flights can get much rowdier with a delay during the holidays have a couple drinks to take the edge off. Also put on those pairs of headphones you’ve stocked up in your bag to block any noise, bury yourself in the latest level in Candy Crush and pretend you’re actually headed to a tropical beach and not your mother-in-laws.

Bottom Line

Thanksgiving travel sucks. It’s hectic, crowded, and full of inexperienced travelers who slow down EVERY step of the way. But keep an eye on the positives and next time you’re flying on a Monday morning and #49 on the upgrade list remember it could be worse…you could be flying the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

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