NEW YORK - If you're braving the airports this Thanksgiving, you won't be alone.
Airlines for America, the lobbying group for several major airlines, forecasts 25.3 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines during the 12 days surrounding the holiday. That's up 3 percent from last year.
To help ease you though your travels, here are some tips for easier flying.
Delays. At the first sign of a serious mechanical problem, call the airline to have it "protect" you on the next flight out. That way, if the problem leads to a cancellation, you are confirmed on a new flight and can just print a new boarding pass.
If you miss your flight connection - or bad weather causes delays - get in line to speak to a customer service representative. But also call the airline directly. If the phone lines are jammed, try the airline's overseas numbers. You'll pay long-distance rates, but might not have to wait. Add those numbers to your phone. Finally, consider sending a tweet to the airline.
There's more to airline lounges than free drinks and light snacks. The airline staffs them with some of its best - and friendliest - ticket agents. The lines are shorter and these agents are magically able to find empty seats. So consider buying a one-day pass. It typically costs $50, but discounts can be found in advance online.
If weather causes cancellations, use apps like HotelTonight and Priceline to find last-minute hotel discounts for that night. Warning: Many of the rooms are nonrefundable when booked, so lock in only once stuck.
Luggage. Weigh it at home first. Anything over 50 pounds (40 pounds on some airlines, such as Spirit) will generate a hefty overweight surcharge in addition to the checked bag fee.
Before your bag disappears behind the ticket counter, make sure the airline's tag has your name, flight number, and final destination. Save the sticker they give you - it has a bag-tracking number on it.
Place a copy of your flight itinerary inside your suitcase with your cellphone number and the name of your hotel in case the tag is ripped off.
If you can't live without it, don't check it. It might take days to return a lost bag. Don't pack medication or outfits for tomorrow's meeting or wedding. Never check valuables such as jewelry or electronics.
Prepare your carry-on bag as if it will be checked. You might not have planned to check your bag, but given today's crowded overhead bins, many fliers don't have a choice. Pack a small canvas bag inside your carry-on, so if you are forced to check it you can at least keep your valuables with you.
Seats. Set up alerts for seat openings. ExpertFlyer.com offers free notifications when a window or aisle seat becomes vacant. For 99 cents, it sends an email if two adjacent seats become available. The service is available for Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, and Virgin America, but not for Delta Air Lines and some smaller carriers.
Check the airline's website five days before the trip. That's when some elite fliers are upgraded to first class, freeing up their coach seats. Another wave of upgrades occurs every 24 to 48 hours.
Check in 24 hours in advance, when airlines start releasing more seats. If connecting, see if seats have opened up 24 hours before the second flight departs.
Keep looking for new seats. Even after checking in, seats can be changed at airport kiosks and on some airlines' mobile applications.