Pack a portable charger and your patience. Thanksgiving is high season for travel across the country. For fliers, the holidays often present lengthy airport security lines, fast-food temptations and mass scrambles for open electrical outlets. The survival guide below details how to successfully meet those challenges at domestic terminals at seven airports across the country, especially when challenged by a cancellation, delay or layover.
Layout: O’Hare has three largely domestic terminals: Terminal 1, dominated by United; Terminal 3, a hub for American; and Terminal 2 for nearly all others. Once travelers are through security, they can freely walk among the adjacent terminals, which can be a hike. To take the intra-terminal train, however, requires leaving security. It also connects to the remote international Terminal 5.
Security lowdown: The busiest security lines seem to be in the center of Terminals 1 and 3 (Terminal 2 has just one checkpoint). In 1 and 3, check security lanes on the outer edges. The Terminal 3 security lane past American Airlines international check-ins is often less crowded, for example.
Best dining: The Chicago-based celebrity chef Rick Bayless runs two sandwich-focused Tortas Frontera outlets, one in Terminal 1 and another in 3. Dishes like Cochinita pibil sandwiches and guacamole and chips come in bulky but easy-to-eat-from cardboard boxes. Healthy snacks such as Kind bars, Greek yogurt, sushi rolls and gluten-free boxed salads are available from Cibo Express Gourmet Market, which operates in Terminals 2 and 3. Less healthy but perhaps more popular, Garrett Popcorn Shops, also in 2 and 3, specialize in the Garrett Mix, a blend of cheese and caramel popcorn. Download the free B4 You Board iPhone app to order a meal from one of five participating restaurants throughout the terminals to have a meal delivered to your gate.
Connectivity: The airport offers 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi, and higher speed access for a fee. Each terminal offers several Power Stations with four to eight stools.
Other amenities: If you have children in tow, let them play at the Kids on the Fly play zone in 2. A mother’s room in 3 offers privacy for breastfeeding mothers. Get your om on in the Yoga Room, which offers free loaner mats and cleansing wipes, also in 3 (access is free). There are day spas in Terminals 1 and 3. Haven’t had your flu shot? Get one ($30) during your layover at clinics in Terminals 1, 2 and 3.
Layout: The nation’s busiest airport, Hartsfield is made up of domestic and international terminals that bookend seven perpendicular concourses. The underground Automated People Mover bisects the concourses, linking them to one another and the terminals. “For as busy as Atlanta is, it’s rather convenient,” said Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly.
Security lowdown: There are three checkpoints in the domestic terminal, Main, North and South. The airport lists checkpoint wait times on its website. Alternatively, fliers can fill out an online Trak-a-Line form, providing an email address to which security updates will be sent.
Best dining: Among many local choices, Atlanta’s landmark Paschal’s operates a satellite restaurant in Concourse B, serving Southern classics like fried chicken and catfish. Pick up pizza and hamburgers from Varasano’s Pizzeria in Concourse A and Grindhouse Killer Burgers in Concourse D. For sit-down meals, try One Flew South in Concourse E, which conjures rural Georgia with a photo mural of a forest. The menu offers sushi and upscale Southern fare such as pork belly sliders and pulled duck sandwiches, many labeled gluten-free and available to go.
Connectivity: The airport offers free Wi-Fi.
Other amenities: Work, sleep or watch TV in privacy at Minute Suites in Concourse B, offering mini-offices with daybeds, desks and showers ($38 an hour; one-hour minimum).
Layout: An elevated intra-airport train, Skylink, makes constant loops connecting the aiport’s five terminals, A through E. American Airlines, which uses DFW as a hub, operates from Terminals A, C and D, and its affiliate American Eagle uses B and D. Other domestic carriers including Delta, JetBlue and United use Terminal E.
Security lowdown: Fifteen security checkpoints are strung along gates that are generally arranged end to end. When one backs up, try the next one down; TSA staff members often direct travelers to uncongested checkpoints next door.
Best dining: Terminal A hosts a branch of Salt Lick Bar-B-Que, famous in the Austin area. Cousin’s Bar-B-Q from Fort Worth is in B and D. From the many Mexican selections, Urban Taco offers a variety of tacos on corn or flour tortillas or a lettuce wrap, plus rice bowls and salads. Sky Canyon from the celebrated local chef Stephan Pyles does Texas cuisine including Freeto-Chile Pie, barbecued brisket in sandwiches or tacos, and some international options including a ceviche bar. If you’re a fan of Slurpees, the first post-security 7-Eleven convenience store opened this month in Terminal A.
Connectivity: Wi-Fi is free throughout the airport. Free travel lounges, at B28, C8, C27 and E8 offer power outlets at each seat. Workstations (also free) with power outlets and USB connections are in Terminals A, C, D and E.
Other amenities: If you need a nap, private office or shower, Minute Suites in Terminal D offers mini-offices with daybeds and private bathrooms (fees range from $25 for a 30-minute shower to $150 for an eight-hour stay). Strike a pose in the Yoga Studio, equipped with mats, near gate D40 (access is free). Children’s play areas known as Aquafina Junior Flyer’s Club are located in Terminals A, B and C. XpresSpa offers spa services in Terminals A, B, D and E. Terminals A and B have nursing rooms.
Layout: From the main Jeppesen Terminal, noted for its multipeaked roof, an underground train bisects three terminals, A, B and C Gates, making it easy to travel among them. United dominates B Gates; Southwest and Delta park at C Gates. American, Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue and others are at A Gates. A pedestrian bridge links the main terminal and A Gates.
Security lowdown: All fliers undergo security screening in the main terminal at one of three checkpoints. Check the airport’s website for estimated TSA wait times.
Best dining: In addition to fast-food chains, DIA, as the airport is popularly called, salts its dining selections with local outposts. At C Gates, Root Down, a branch of the Denver restaurant, offers farm-to-table fare, including raw items and sandwiches packed for the plane. At B Gates, Elway’s steakhouse is popular for its burger as well as Colorado-raised steaks, and New Belgium Hub serves microbrews from the Fort Collins brewer. Modmarket at B and C gates caters to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets.
Connectivity: The airport offers free Wi-Fi and is installing 4,000 seats throughout the gate areas with universal power outlets. Five new C gates offer power at each seat, or 894 outlets. The Sky Lounge at the Westin Hotel adjacent to the airport offers outlets at each table.
Other amenities: DIA is proud of its public art collection, which includes “Open Windows,” an interactive light tower triggered by a motion-detection camera (near gate B51). The west end of the C Gates is the best place to catch the sun setting over the Rockies. The new Westin Denver International Airport Hotel, just beyond the main terminal, provides harbor for waylaid travelers and includes an indoor pool and hot tub.
Layout: New York’s Kennedy operates six remote terminals, numbered 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8, strung together by an intra-airport Airtrain outside of security checkpoints. Transferring among them requires connecting fliers to pass through security again at their new terminal. Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic are in terminal 4; JetBlue and Hawaiian are in 5; Alaska, American Airlines and American Eagle are in 8; and Delta operates in terminals 2 and 4..
Security lowdown: The domestic terminals at JFK are among the better equipped at the airport, with a dozen or more security lanes.
Best dining: Terminal 5 offers a substantial and varied lineup of dining options, from tiny La Vie offering French bistro fare to the Spanish tapas specialist Piquillo and Deep Blue Sushi, which also offers grab-and-go fare.
Terminal 2 recently got a dining upgrade to include Croque Madame, a French sandwich spot from the chef Andrew Carmellini, and BKLYN Beer Garden with tap beers and a menu by Laurent Tourondel. If you’re leaving from Terminal 2, download the free B4 You Board iPhone app to order a meal from two participating restaurants and have it delivered to your gate.
There are two branches of the restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack in Terminal 4, and one of his barbecue place Blue Smoke on the Road. The chef Marcus Samuelsson recently opened Uptown Brasserie here with an eclectic menu including fried chicken and pasta.
Cibo Express Gourmet Market in Terminals 2, 5 and 8 stocks healthy snacks including fruit, granola bars, yogurt and gluten-free salads.
Connectivity: The airport offers 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi. There are charging stations at most Delta gates, and the central atrium of Terminal 5 offers many outlets.
Other amenities: A freestanding suite for nursing mothers features a changing table, electrical outlet and a bench at Terminal 5 near Gate 12. Also at the terminal, or, rather, outside of it (presecurity), JetBlue operates the new T5 Farm on the departures level, a 24,000-square-foot container vegetable garden, which passengers can visit curbside. Atop the terminal, all passengers can visit the outdoor terrace on the rooftop, which includes a dog walk.
LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
Layout: Four remote terminals, A through D, handle domestic traffic at LaGuardia. Delta runs its shuttle to Chicago and Washington, D.C., from Terminal A. Delta also operates from C and D. The largest terminal, B, has four concourses: A, with United and JetBlue; B, with Southwest and Spirit; C with American, United and Virgin America; and D with American. American also operates from Terminal D.
Security lowdown: Patience. Security stations tend to be narrow, especially in the Terminal B concourses, each with its own checkpoint.
“It’s definitely worth springing for one-day priority access that will get you through security faster, at least on American and Delta,” said Michael Alan Connelly, editor of Fodors.com, referring to premium economy seating that often offers a special security line.
Best dining: In Terminal B’s common area, Bowery Bay Tavern trades in Philly cheesesteak and burgers, and Todd English’s Figs Restaurant does Mediterranean dishes. Post-security in the A gates, Metro Burger Bar uses Pat LaFrieda beef, and near the B gates, Six Blocks Bakery serves pastries from Balthazar Bakery in Manhattan. In the B and C concourses, Cibo Express Gourmet Markets stock healthy snacks including salads and nuts.
Several acclaimed chefs are attached to sit-down restaurants in Terminal C, including Cotto, which offers Italian paninis and pastas from Michael White; Victory Grill from Andrew Carmellini; and Biergarten from Brooklyn Brewery, which also offers sandwiches and small plates.
At its culinary rival, Terminal D, Bisoux will box your croque monsieurs and other bistro fare to go, and Taste of Tagliare offers pizza by the slice. Custom Burgers, also from Pat LaFrieda, grills to order. The Minnow, also by Mr. Carmellini, includes a raw bar and sushi. For healthy to-go, try Cibo Express Gourmet Market.
Connectivity: The airport offers 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi throughout its terminals.
Other amenities: A freestanding suite for nursing mothers features a changing table, electrical outlet and a bench at Terminal A, Concourse A. Terminal B has been redesigned with newer upscale shops, including Tumi, Lacoste, Desigual and L’Occitane. American Express credit card holders can gain access to the Centurion Lounge for $50 a day (free for some high-level card holders); children under age 18 are free.
Layout: in the midst of a multibillion-dollar renovation to update and better link all terminals, LAX has nine terminals including the new Tom Bradley International Terminal (1, 2, 6, 7 and 8 are undergoing construction). American Airlines parks at Terminal 4, Delta at 5 and United at 7 and 8. While spread out, Terminals 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 are accessible by walking without having to exit and re-enter security.
Security lowdown: With construction inside and out, the airport has created a new LAX Is Happening website that offers travel tips for each terminal. Additional screening checkpoints have been added to Terminals 5 and 6, relieving congestion. Still, the proximity of checkpoints to gates will determine where you enter. “If you try another terminal and walk back, it doesn’t make sense. It’s just a worse schlep,” said Brett Snyder, who blogs about the airline industry at the Cranky Flier.
Best dining: In American’s Terminal 4, the LA Gourmet Street Truck is designed to change concepts and currently hosts a branch of Border Grill from the chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, serving from a parked vehicle. Real Food Daily features plant-based foods. In Terminals 5 and 7, Loteria Grill, which is also popular around town, serves tacos, enchiladas and burritos. Terminal 5 also has Ford’s Filling Station, a branch of the gastropub by the chef Ben Ford, son of the actor Harrison Ford.
Connectivity: LAX offers free Wi-Fi throughout its terminals. Faster access is available for $4.95 an hour or $7.95 for 24 hours.
Other amenities: Terminal 5 features a new a nursing room.