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For holiday fliers, some tips to clear the air

A security officer at Tampa International Airport uses FIDO, a new hand-held sniffer for medical liquids and kids’ drinks.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

A security officer at Tampa International Airport uses FIDO, a new hand-held sniffer for medical liquids and kids’ drinks.

Holiday air travel advice usually sounds as stale as week-old stuffing. But there are a few new twists this season and confusing news about airline mergers, security screening rules and potential air travel nightmares. Here are a few tips to ease your trip:

Crowds: Fewer people will fly this Thanksgiving holiday than a year earlier. But it might not feel like it. Planes will be 90 percent full on average during the three busiest days — in order, the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving and the Wednesday before. That's because airlines cut domestic capacity by about 10 percent to boost fares. One bright spot: Parking should be plentiful at Tampa International Airport. A 3,700-space expansion to the economy parking garage opens Nov. 26. And more travelers are bumming rides or taking short cab trips to save money. For folks picking up friends and relatives, the cell phone lot has doubled in size.

Liquids: Next fall, the Transportation Security Administration expects to let travelers take as much shampoo, makeup and other liquids as they want on planes starting when more advanced X-ray machines arrive in U.S. airports. But for now, you are still limited to carrying on only as many 3.4-ounce bottles of liquids as you can fit in a quart-sized plastic bag. There are exemptions for parents with small kids to bring breast milk and drinks (water, juice, etc.). The TSA has a new portable sniffer called FIDO that might speed up testing those bottles for explosive liquids.

Traffic: Driving in and out of Tampa International can be bewildering if you haven't made the trip in a while. Construction of new interchanges south of the airport may have changed your familiar routes. Fortunately, directional signs are better than they were a year ago. Pay close attention behind the wheel. Before leaving, you can get updates and directions out of the airport at the state's local interstate highway construction Web site, www.mytbi.com.

No merging (yet): Yes, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines officially merged last month. But if you're flying either airline for the holidays, forget about it. The carriers won't fully combine under the Delta name for a year, maybe two.

So, Northwest customers need to check bags at the Northwest ticket counter and catch their planes at Airside A. Delta customers should stick with Delta.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Tried and true tips

• Arrive at the airport two hours before departure time on peak days (Nov. 26, Nov. 30, Dec. 1).

• Limit the size of carry-on bags. Airlines are cracking down and charging checked-bag fees.

• Put contact information inside your checked bag (in case the bag tag is lost).

On the road

About 41-million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving, down slightly from last year, AAA estimates. A tight economy will discourage some travelers, but tumbling gas prices give others a chance to share turkey with loved ones.

For holiday fliers, some tips to clear the air 11/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 3:22pm]
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