Fewer people will fly this holiday season, but flights will still be packed.
That's according to a forecast released Tuesday by the main trade group representing U.S. airlines. About 43.3 million travelers will fly on U.S. carriers over the three-week holiday period, a 1 percent decline from a year earlier, predicts Airlines for America. That works out to about 20,000 fewer people per day. The trade group attributes the decline to "lingering economic concerns" and high energy prices that are limiting would-be travelers' disposable income.
About 1.6 million to 2.3 million people are forecast to fly each day between Wednesday and the first week of January.
Even with fewer passengers, fliers won't have more room to stretch out. Planes will be full because airlines have reduced the number of flights and planes, the trade group said.
Packed planes don't just mean less leg room. They also result in more delays if something goes wrong. Last year, when major snowstorms shut airports and crippled airlines, millions of travelers waited days to find other travel options.
If you're flying in the next three weeks and bracing for a tough trip, here are tips to make your journey jollier.
_ Check in a full 24 hours ahead of your flight. This will help in getting the seat you want and possibly give you a leg up later on. Some airlines board fliers according to check-in times.
_ Don't wrap gifts. The Transportation Security Administration will unwrap anything they deem suspicious. Don't risk it.
_ Don't forget your bags. When you check in online, make sure you indicate if you have a checked bag. Checking in luggage online will save time at the airport.
_ Pack sensibly. The holidays might not be the best time to stuff a carry-on to avoid a checked bag fee. Overhead bins will be extremely full.
_ Be informed. Look up the airline's customer service number and its contract of carriage _ the list of rights you have on a flight _ on the airline's website before you leave home. It'll pay off if something goes wrong.
_ Brings snacks and an empty water bottle. You can fill the water bottle after you go through security.
AT THE AIRPORT
_ Arrive early. It's the easiest way to de-stress your trip.
_ Stay connected. There are smartphone applications that let you check everything from the emptiest parking lots to security wait times. You can also sign up for flight alerts though the airlines or travel site, which will let you know if your flight is delayed or canceled.
_ Wear slip-on shoes. They're the easiest to get on and off at security. This year, though, kids under 12 won't have to remove their shoes.
_ Know security rules. Have your liquids in a plastic bag outside of your suitcase before approaching security. Take off your belt, and remove everything from your pockets (new body scanners are more sensitive to those items than metal detectors.) Have your boarding pass and identification in hand.