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updated: 11/30/2015 3:14 PM

Pyke: Tips make Thanksgiving travel easy as pie

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  • Experts advise fliers to expect the unexpected at airports, with some extra scrutiny likely at checkpoints this holiday.

    Experts advise fliers to expect the unexpected at airports, with some extra scrutiny likely at checkpoints this holiday.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • If you want to fly with gravy this Thanksgiving, don't bring it in a carry-on unless it's in a 3.4-ounce container.

    If you want to fly with gravy this Thanksgiving, don't bring it in a carry-on unless it's in a 3.4-ounce container.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • Yes, you could bring a frozen turkey in carry-on, but that's a little crazy and there are some caveats.

    Yes, you could bring a frozen turkey in carry-on, but that's a little crazy and there are some caveats.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
 

You can have your pumpkin pie and carry it on the plane, too. But forget about carting gravy on board unless it fits in a teeny-tiny bottle.

The grandfather of all busy travel days is coming like a freight train with Transportation Security Administration officers expecting to screen nearly 2.8 million passengers a day leading up to Thanksgiving.

Here are some tips from the TSA's Michael McCarthy to get through airport security and en route to loved ones as expeditiously as possible.

• Shoes on or off? Children 12 and under, and seniors age 75 and older may remain shod. The rest of us should don cleanish socks sans holes and expect cold floors.

• Liquids in carry-on? Formula, breast milk and juice for toddlers and infants is fine in regular-size bottles. But shampoo, saline solution, cough syrup and, yes, that water bottle you grabbed from the fridge won't fly. Liquids must be in a 3.4-ounce container and wrangled into a clear, plastic quart-size zipped bag.

• Wrapped gifts are allowed in carry-ons, but they could be examined, slowing everyone down. It's best to use gift bags or store them in checked luggage.

• Stunning as it is, passengers with ammunition and firearms in carry-ons continue to be intercepted at airports. Firearms are permitted but they must be unloaded, in a locked, hard-sided container in checked luggage.

• Pie is fine in a carry-on and so, surprisingly, is frozen turkey -- but there's a lot of fine print involving ice packs. "Chicago to Detroit should be OK, but Chicago to San Francisco is a different story," McCarthy said regarding poultry.

Overall, "the best thing to do is arrive early and arrive prepared. Make sure you have the proper identification and have it ready. Make sure you've gone to our website and are aware what can or cannot fly in carry-on luggage," he added.

The TSA has a handy "When I fly can I bring my" feature on its website at tsa.gov and a free smartphone My TSA app as well.

Meanwhile, many travelers are worried about lines stretching to Rosemont at O'Hare, with experts predicting tighter security in the wake of terrorist threats and attacks abroad.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign aviation security expert Sheldon H. Jacobson advises passengers to "expect the unexpected -- some additional screening, some extra bag searches."

He suggests packing as light as possible to reduce the likelihood of something being flagged and double-checking before leaving the house for prohibited items.

"If you travel six or more times a year, consider signing up for TSA PreCheck, so your travel next year (including the holiday season) will be expedited via the PreCheck lanes."

Jacobson thinks that "one problem with the rash of false alarms that we are now seeing at airport screenings and on airplanes is that it diverts attention away from the real threats that are looming in the system. If TSA personnel stay the course and continue to observe the protocols in place, the holiday will be pleasant and safe for all."

You should know

I nearly drove off the road when I saw gas at $2 a gallon Friday. AAA predicts Americans should see some of the lowest prices in years this holiday, sparking 42 million to plan a Thanksgiving road trip. Gas is averaging $2.17 a gallon in the metro area compared to $3.09 a year ago.

Here are some other suggestions for drivers:

• Google Maps analyzed Thanksgiving traffic trends in Chicago and advises the worst gridlock is between 3 and 5 p.m. Wednesday. Our region was the country's seventh worst for turkey traffic in 2014.

• Make sure your cellphone is powered up, and the jump cables are in the trunk along with a blanket, shovel, kitty litter, etc.

• Book your Christmas vacation rental car now.

Gridlock alert

Metra runs an early quit schedule Wednesday with some extra early afternoon trains and a few canceled ones. Service is on the holiday schedule Thanksgiving and back to normal weekday functioning Friday with the exception of the BNSF Line. To find out more, go to https://metrarail.com.

Turkey trot

A total of 46.9 million Americans -- roughly the populations of New York and Texas combined -- will hit the roads, airports and train stations over the Thanksgiving holiday, AAA estimates. In 2007, as the recession clouds gathered, that number was 50.6 million; and 2015's results are the most since that year. The largest share of the pumpkin pie -- nearly 42 million -- comprises drivers, AAA said. And, of those 46.9 million holiday travelers, 2.5 million are Illinoisans.

One more thing

The Illinois tollway increased a five-year contract with engineering consultants HNTB Corp. from $69.9 million to $89 million last week. The consultants provide engineering design monitoring and construction management. The extra $19 million was necessary because work on the tollway's $12 billion, 15-year capital plan is accelerating, not leveling off, officials said.

Upcoming

For a change, the tollway's proposed 2016 budget has generated acute interest, mostly in Lake County because $5.8 million is slated for "emerging project" planning. That could include an environmental impact study on extending Route 53 north. But $5.8 million is just a fraction of the $40 million to $50 million an environmental impact study could cost. A vote on the budget will occur in December. The study will get a separate vote. Stay tuned.

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