The idea of flying during the holidays conjures up images of long security lines, crowded terminals and travelers using their carry-on bags as pillows on an airport floor. Fortunately, your holiday air travel experience doesn’t have to resemble these scenes in the least. Use the following tips to avoid some of the most common mistakes made by travelers flying during the holidays.
1. Booking Too Late
Never put off booking your holiday flights. Since nearly every flight books up (and, in some cases, overbooks), there’s rarely a time when the price will go down. As soon as you know when you’re going to travel, reserve your airline tickets.
If you’re looking to save a bit of money, you can also snag tickets for slightly less expensive travel days. Certain flights on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day may be a bit cheaper since most people prefer to spend those days celebrating rather than traveling. In addition, some late flights on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve may also offer a minor price break.
2. Bad Timing
When it comes to holiday air travel, it’s all about timing. Everything from when you arrive at the airport to when your flight lands can affect your travel experience. Here are the main timing issues to keep in mind:
- Getting to the airport: Leave extra time for travel to the airport – there tends to be more traffic during this time of year. Arrive at least two hours before your check-in time since security lines may be much longer than usual.
- Departure time: Early flights are less likely to be delayed. An ideal departure time falls between 6 and 7 a.m.
- Arrival time: When traveling to a cold location, it’s helpful to land sometime between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. These are the warmest hours of the day, which helps to reduce the risk of a weather-related delay.
- Connecting flights: Leave extra time for connecting flights, especially if there’s a chance that weather could cause a delay. A one-hour layover should be the minimum during the holiday season.
3. Lack of Alternatives
If a delay should occur, make sure you’re prepared to deal with it effectively. If there’s a long delay or a cancellation, take action to get to your destination faster. First, contact the airline directly to ask about getting on an earlier flight. If the delay is weather-related rather than an airline issue, you can look up hotel rooms in the surrounding area.
To make this process easier, have the phone numbers for your airline and a few nearby with you when you arrive at the airport. You can also download helpful hotel-finding smartphone apps to make reservations even easier.
4. Impractical Packing
Your luggage can create problems when traveling at the holidays. Airlines are often overwhelmed and overbooked already, and bags have an increased chance of getting lost when delays are occurring. Make sure you keep your bags with you from departure to arrival by taking only carry-on bags if possible. Check with your airline’s to ensure that your bags will fit into the overhead bins.
For those checking bags, weight limits may be a problem during this time of the year. Many people are traveling for long periods of time and try to cram everything from clothes to gifts to winter coats into their luggage. Make sure you check your airline’s weight restrictions to avoid extra baggage fees. You may want to purchase an inexpensive luggage scale if you’re a frequent traveler.
If you’re bringing gifts, be aware that they may have to be unwrapped when they go through security. For a much easier travel experience, consider giving gift cards or shipping your gifts in advance.
5. Bad Attitude
Though the practical advice above is surely helpful, one of the simplest ways to make your air travel experience better is by maintaining a good attitude. Too many people approach their holiday flights with stress or anxiety, which makes it more difficult to deal with problems like delays or cancellations. Since many airport employees are irritated or overwhelmed by unhappy holiday travelers, being courteous and appreciative of their efforts can go a long way.
Smile and thank ticket agents for their help, and avoid blaming staff members for delays or other problems that are beyond their control. Remember that it’s probably tough for them to work during the holidays, especially when things are going wrong. In these situations, having a bit of the holiday spirit can help you avoid one of the worst holiday air travel mistakes: being a Scrooge.
Use these tips when planning your flights to make the busy holiday travel season a little more cheerful. Though no one loves to go to the airport during this time of year, you can make the experience a good one with smart planning and a smile.