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The holiday season is not only an epic shopping showdown, it’s unrivaled as one of the busiest travel times of the year. With almost certain weather delays and every possible flight being booked solid, the key to avoiding as much of nasty stuff as possible is to have a plan. Here are my battle-tested planning tips for holiday travel:[Related Article: Rehearse the Security Line]
Your Plan is Your Best Friend
I shouldn’t have to say this, but if you haven’t already booked your flight for the holidays, it’s GO time! With so much consolidation in the airlines there are fewer flights and routes. The seats that are available are just going to get more expensive as we get closer to the holiday. According to the Hipmunk blog, the best time to book airfare for the December holidays is around Veteran’s Day. By looking at historical flight data, Hipmunk concluded that travelers who book holiday travel before Veteran’s Day, could save as much as $266 over those who wait until December. So time to get busy and get your tickets!
Secure Your Seats
You may be on a budget or trying to keep your spending under control during the holidays. Let me save you a headache or two. Now is the time that it pays to spend a little extra for preferred/advanced seating. Airlines have decided to charge you for sitting together and some even charge extra for window/aisle seats. This fee seems aimed at families who want to sit together, so it seems especially not holiday friendly. I recommend that you spend and book the advanced seats if you all need to be together. Otherwise you’ll end up in a middle seat alone somewhere. Some airlines throw in priority boarding when you upgrade your seat, so check the airline’s website to see if you qualify.
Fly Against Traffic and Leave Plenty of Time
The holidays are such a crunch time since just about all of the United States is traveling at the same time. If you have flexibility in your arrival times, you could save money and avoid the peak most stressful times to fly. Most booking and airlines sites have calendars to show when the cheapest days and times are to fly to your destination. Just mark “my dates are flexible.” The really smart way to save money (and your sanity) is to book your flights before or after most people have already arrived. You trade off flying on the actual holiday with time savings and a quieter travel environment for you and your family.
Now that you have your tickets and flight schedule, be sure to leave plenty of time. I’ve said it again and again. What makes everyone panic is when they haven’t given themselves enough lead-time for crowds or unexpected problems. Because of the busy season, get to the airport AT LEAST 2 hours before your flight. Print your boarding passes the night before so you eliminate one potentially long line.
Here’s my trick to get to the airport in plenty of time. I base my two hours off the BOARDING TIME not the DEPARTURE TIME. Both times are printed on your boarding pass but generally the boarding time is about a half hour before the flight leaves. Think about it…if you base two hours off of the departure time you’ve already lost 30 minutes. And you’ll want to be at the gate when the flight is called so you have a better chance of boarding at the beginning of your zone or group so you can get settled and secure space in the overhead bin.
Remember to Relax and Have Fun
Inside of an airport, waiting for boarding, we all become toddlers who need to be entertained with lots of distractions. Make sure you bring your fully charged electronics on your flight or drive. Watch a movie or TV series you’ve been wanting to see. Read the e-book series by the author everyone is raving about (now you can use your Kindle from take off through landing). Learn French from a downloaded app and impress your family and friends. If you don’t have a kindle, make sure you have a book, magazine or puzzle for the time you are asked to shut down all electronics. When the captain announces that you are way down in the line for take-off you’ll be happy you’ve got something to do.
Take some time to create your own quiet environment. You’d be surprised how peaceful the airport or flight can be if you work at it. Use $250 noise cancelling headphones?! Are you kidding me? I achieve a similar effect with a twenty cent set of ear plugs. I find most stress from the airport comes from the noise: crying babies, barking CFO’s, and 43 announcements about flights you don’t care about. I slip these into my ears and though it doesn’t block out the noise completely (you still do need to hear things) it does create a more placid existence while in the hurly burly world of an airport terminal. Next time you’re at a Home Depot or Lowe’s pick up a box of them. You get like, 80 for $15 as opposed to 1 measly set for 6 bucks at the airport.
Make sure you eat something! Most incidents of travel tantrums can be avoided by simply eating something. Yes, even the perkiest travel host on TV has lost her cool when she’s skipped a meal or snack while traveling. So smile, be friendly to the airline staff and make sure you eat a healthy meal or snack. I always travel with a peanut butter sandwich, nutmix and a banana.
Mind Your Manners & Know the Rules
Remember this when you travel…everyone around you is worthy of your kindness and understanding. Even when things have grown a little tense and you are feeling stressed, keep your manners in check. I have personally seen agents take care of the well behaved, polite travelers out there. Your manners are part of your travel arsenal. Being rude and yelling at the person at the desk leads nowhere. If an agent goes beyond the call of duty, make sure you thank them.
When there’s a big crowd it’s easier and better to travel light so mail your packages ahead. If you must take them on the airplane or even checked baggage, make sure they are unwrapped. Wrapped gifts will very likely need to be unwrapped for security purposes, so plan accordingly.
Here is a helpful link: How to Get Through Security Faster
If you only travel this time of year there are some welcomed changes in security procedures: Passengers 12 and under are able to leave their shoes on and those 75 and over can leave shoes and light jackets on while going through security checkpoints. This will help speed up the line for everyone!