Best ways to save time at airport on getaway day

Phuket, Thailand - April 27, 2011: Crowds of people waiting at the airline check in counters at Phuket airport. iStockphoto

The day before Thanksgiving is always one of the heaviest travel days of the year.

But there are ways you can save time if your plans include flying, as CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg explained on "The Early Show" Wednesday:

If you weren't on the first flight out, you're going to have problems regardless of the weather. The bottom line is that airlines have decreased capacity, and your options to get around a potential weather jam or other delay has been limited exponentially. Traveling 300 miles or less? Take the train!

Celebrating the Holidays 2011

But there are ways to mitigate plane-related pain.

Go to arrival level to get into the airport. This will save you more than 15 minutes. You will avoid the logjam at the departure area.

Print your boarding pass before leaving the house. But remember -- a boarding pass does not guarantee you a seat! You must, must, must still check in at the gate. If the airlines are ever going to overbook, they will do it this weekend.

Do not volunteer to give up seat unless you're getting $3,000. The next seat could be next Thursday.

Go carry-on and do what you can to board first. Overheads fill up quickly.

Consider the routing: It's not about where you are going, it's about where the plane taking you to your destination is coming from. Never ask an agent if a plane is "on time" -- ask for a tail number of the plane assigned to your flight, and then ask where that plane is coming from. You can do this four hours before departure. If it is coming from a location where there is bad weather, you are then armed with knowledge to work around problems. You can get ahead of the problem in looking for ways to reroute.

Going to bad weather destination? Think alternative airports close enough to your destination, and drive. There will not be a penalty fee to rebook at the counter because the weather has forced you to change your plans.

One stop option as opposed to non-stop: Let's say you are going nonstop to from New York to Seattle. If the plane coming to take you is originating from Chicago, where there is also bad weather, and it is canceled, ask to be rerouted through areas where there is not bad weather. Go New York, Denver, Seattle. Know your weather!

Invert the map: Let's say you're want to go to Los Angeles from Phoenix. but can't -- fly east, then west. Go Phoenix, Albuquerque, L.A. It's like a game of musical chairs. Take the nearest seat on any route.

Start making phone calls asking all of these questions before leaving home and keep it going all the way to the airport. And don't decide to stay home to figure it out. It's like a bad raffle: You have to be present to win!

Exhausted all options? Go home! If flights are canceled, canceled, canceled, cut bait. Go to any major hotel in your city, because they're going to be the only guys serving turkey. Canceled equals full refund!

  • Peter Greenberg

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