Frazzled nerves, irritated staff, grumpy travelers, and frequent delays – welcome to travel during Thanksgiving. And that’s during a typical year, not during the pandemic of our lifetime.
I present Thanksgiving 2021, my trip home.
Monday, November 22nd
8:04 pm: My Thanksgiving tradition of watching Planes, Trains, and Automobiles takes on extra significance this year as I prepare for a trip home through congested airports filled with anxious, mask-wearing travelers and short-tempered TSA agents. My mind runs through the possibilities of weather delays, sickouts, long lines, crowded restaurants, and an all-around surly mob.
Tuesday, November 23rd
4:20 pm: We arrive at the Pittsburgh International Airport.
4:35 pm: After checking in, Lori notices her ticket doesn’t say TSA precheck. Mine does. I have a choice to make. I can either enjoy the speed and convenience of the TSA line by myself or embrace chivalry and join Lori in a line where I’ll have to empty my bags, remove clothing, and submit to a body scanner.
4:36 pm: I wish Lori good luck.
4:37 pm: We race through security separately.
4:41 pm: I win.
4:42 pm: I’m amazed at the short lines at the security checkpoint. This is not what I was expecting at all. The TSA agents are friendly and don’t look understaffed or overworked.
4:44 pm: I wave to a shoeless Lori after she exits the body scanner. She doesn’t look as annoyed as I would have thought.
4:47 pm: We are both through security. I’m shocked at how quick it was.
5:11 pm: We have dinner at Penn Brewery for our last Pittsburgh meal. It is 10% full. I realize it’s early, but the airport restaurants are dead.
5:38 pm: I’m trying out a new travel app called Flighty. It promises to make “travel stress-free” as it notifies you of delays and information about your flights. I enter our flight numbers.
5:40 pm: I’m alerted that the airplane for our connecting flight is an hour delayed.
5:42 pm: I’m alerted that the airplane for our connecting flight has been changed and is not delayed.
5:44 pm: I’m alerted that the airplane for our connecting flight has taken off late – two minutes late.
5:45 pm: I decide that I may not need this many alerts as they are stressing me out.
9:04 pm: We land in Dallas after an uneventful flight. My mask is getting swampy, and I wouldn’t mind taking it off as we get something to eat, but the restaurants in the airport are all closing for the night. Like Pittsburgh, the Dallas airport is close to empty.
9:33 pm: My American Airlines app offers me $200 to give up my seat to Tulsa. Nice try American, you’re going to have to put another zero on that number to get me to stay the night in Dallas.
9:40 pm: The first surly traveler of the evening! He’s loudly telling anyone who will listen that our flight is delayed because it is empty and will be canceled. He must not have the American Airlines app.
9:42 pm: My Flighty app informs me our flight is delayed until 10:40 pm. American is telling me departure remains at 10:30 pm. Who is right, and what does the surly passenger know that I don’t?
9:47 pm: American Airlines admits we will be delayed. I’m starting to warm up to Flighty – it knows the future.
9:52 pm: As I repeatedly run my soapy hands under the bathroom sink faucet, trying to trigger the sensor to release water, I start to wonder if we’re really that close to self-driving cars.
10:11 pm: Ditto as I raise and lower my phone, trying to get the scanner to register my boarding pass. The gate agent looks slightly annoyed with me.
10:29 pm: The aircraft door closes, and miraculously the seat next to me is empty!
10:35 pm: I place my Kindle on the empty seat – because I can.
11:25 pm: Off the plane, and we head toward baggage claim.
11:29 pm: There are not enough mints in the world to make the air inside my mask fresh.
Wednesday, November 24th through Friday, November 26th
A three-day whirlwind of family, friends, and food. Too short, especially after skipping 2020.
Saturday, November 27th
3:01 pm: Arrive at the Tulsa International Airport to begin our journey home.
3:02 pm: As we approach a kiosk to check our bags, an airline customer service agent waves us over. I look around to make sure her friendly smile is meant for us and not a more worthy first-class passenger. No, we are the only ones around. I realize that either the airport is so slow the agent is trying to fight boredom by helping us, or I’ve reached the age where I look unable to operate an airline kiosk. I’m happy either way.
3:09 pm: Lori and I stare at each other in disbelief. We managed to check our bags and make it through security in 8 minutes.
4:13 pm: The airport is empty. I laugh to myself. What happened to the craziness I was expecting? Where are all the scary crowds I was worried about?
8:21 pm: Atlanta.
8:22 pm: We come face to face with the mob. The Atlanta airport is noticeably packed. Strangely, the restaurants near the gates are closed, so we head towards the food court to find dinner.
8:23 pm: We enter the food court, and it is mobbed. Lines are 40 deep and snake through the entire area. I’m not even sure where they begin and end. I don’t like the idea of wading through this mass of humanity to get a cold burger and soggy fries.
8:24 pm: I peer through the crowd and notice an escalator rising out of the horde, leading to what I imagine is a better place.
8:25 pm: We are face to face with a host at Gordon Biersch. There is a 50-minute wait for a table, but the bar is open seating. The bar it is.
8:26 pm: We strategically position ourselves behind a couple finishing off their drinks.
8:28 pm: A seat, multiple football games on tv, and a menu in a relatively uncrowded venue – I am happy.
9:03 pm: Thanksgiving travel takes a toll on the traveler next to Lori. He’s cut off after the bartender slides him a bourbon. The fellow traveler takes it very well as he looks at his watch, downs the drink, and heads off to catch a flight, or find another bar.
10:37 pm: Someone has foolishly put Lori and me in charge of the safety of all souls on our aircraft. I’m not sure how we ended up in the exit row, but I’ll take it.
10:49 pm: Our flight is delayed. We need a part. I’ve seen this show before, and it usually doesn’t end well.
10:59 pm: Hat tip to the Delta mechanic who had the Thanksgiving weekend late shift. We’re off.
Sunday, November 28th
12:30 am: Pittsburgh greets us as we fly directly over downtown. Heinz Field is ablaze even at this late hour. Snow is falling.
12:40 am: We land.
2:07 am: Home at last. I’ve been flying to visit family for Thanksgiving/Christmas for many years, and I don’t think it ever went this smoothly. I prepared for the worst, but travel for Thanksgiving 2021 turned out better than I could have ever expected.
P.S: If you’re the Delta mechanic that replaced a part on flight 2899 to Pittsburgh on November 27th, I’ve got a $100 Amazon gift card waiting for you.
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David Tuzzolino, CFA, CFP®, is the Founder and CEO of PathBridge Financial, a firm that specializes in providing comprehensive financial planning and investment management services for clients that are nearing retirement and love to travel.