8 Great Holiday Air Travel Tips

It is no secret that flights during the year end holiday season are stressful. Flights are more packed (more people), there is less onboard space (more bulky clothes and carryon gifts), and security lines are longer (because “novices” are flying).

I have shared many holiday air travel tips in recent Twitter chats and figured it would be useful to organize the tips into a single post.

Whether you have an upcoming holiday today or next year, here is hoping that these suggestions will help ease the stress a bit.

8 Great Holiday Air Travel Tips

Fly Early in the Day

When there are flight delays due to bad weather or other reasons, there is a boomerang effect for the rest of the day—or even days. Taking an early morning flight often means beating bad weather and avoiding delays. Besides you will have more time at your destination to visit family and friends—and shop for gifts. Speaking of which…

Ship Gifts

Save baggage room and alleviate packing anxiety by shipping gifts to your destination. I prefer to use free shipping vendors like Amazon Prime and Zappos. If you do pack gifts, try to leave them unwrapped. TSA does not prohibit wrapped gifts but they must unwrap gifts for a closer look if the item sets off the scanner.

Pack Lightly

Baggage claim hassles can ruin your trip. For years, I have successfully avoided lost, delayed, or damaged baggage simply by not doing it. Carryon baggage is the best way to fly. First, it limits the amount of stuff you bring. Second, you maintain control of your stuff so the airline or airports cannot lose or damage it. Third, you save time avoiding baggage claim and get on with your trip. Fourth, you save stress about baggage issues (emotional baggage?). My family went to Ireland for a week and Italy for 9 days with carryon only—I know you can do it!

Allow Extra Time

This is a catch-all tip for whenever loads are heavier (more passengers). It might take longer to travel to airports if roads are slick, more time to clear security because there are more travelers and more unaware travelers, and even more time to buy your Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks while waiting to board.

Connect Through Fair Weather Airports

Another way to minimize the risk of delayed flights is to book connecting flights through airports less likely to be impacted by weather delays. For instance, if I have a choice between connecting through ORD (Chicago O’Hare) or any other airport, I select other. On any given day ATL (Atlanta) or DFW (Dallas) might have more delays, but on average, ORD has the most flights impacted by bad weather.

Eliminate Potential Problems

I am a strong believer in heading off problems before they occur. Regarding holiday travel, many things can go wrong. In addition to the above suggestions, all try to reconfirm itineraries before heading to the airport, attain advance seating assignments, preprint boarding passes, listen to announcements, and board the plane when called. Passengers boarding flights too late—whether due to long security or checkin lines, or other reasons—may be involuntarily bumped.

Address Problems Immediately

Sometimes luck is not on your side. Issues do occur, no matter how much advance planning and risk reduction was done. Take immediate action when problems occur. Complaining after the event may result in compensation but may not get you to your destination as planned. If a flight is delayed or cancelled, you might get a better response through Twitter or Facebook than by telephone or in person at the airport.

Positive Attitude

I am a strong believer in travel karma and a proponent of being flexible, resourceful, and occasionally assertive in all travel scenarios. The holiday travel period is particularly stressful for all; travelers, flight crew, airport staff. Being nice to travel personnel does not hurt and may even help. No, I do not have any proof that I have avoided mishaps but I do believe that fortune has smiled on me on many occasions. How to explain the airline calling me the night before a flight and rebooking me and then arriving the next day to find 100s of passengers trying to change plans? Was it because I confirmed my itinerary earlier that day? How to explain a few unexplainable first class upgrades? Was it because I gave bags of Trader Joe’s chocolates to flight attendants on previous flights or because I smiled at the checkin agent and asked how her day was going? Probably luck.

My hope is that luck is on your side and these tips help you avoid potential issues with holiday flights.

Do you have any other holiday air travel tips?

8 Great Holiday Air Travel Tips was originally published Dec 2013 for McCool Travel.

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