Fly the Holidays... Without Getting Left Up in the Air
by Mark H. Anbinder
Every year, I swear to myself, “I’m never going to fly on a holiday again.” But who am I kidding? Whether we’re visiting relatives or friends, or just taking advantage of a long weekend for a quick get-away, sometimes circumstances conspire to put us on the road, or in the air, on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
After the first several such experiences, I’ve come up with some survival strategies. Many of these tips apply any time of year, but saving time during the upcoming holiday travel season, or on a holiday weekend year-round, is especially important, as delays are inevitable, connections are tight, tempers are hot, and spare seats are few and far between.
No, even lighter. This most basic of travel advice is easy to set aside when preparing for a big holiday jaunt. Just remember that the lighter you pack, the less there is to cart through the mobs at the airport.
The best approach is to pack a small carry-on — and stop there. This lets you skip the luggage check-in process at the beginning of your travel day and baggage claim at the end, and virtually eliminates the chances that the airline will manage to lose your luggage en route.
Resist the temptation to fill up one of those big, black rolling contraptions that’s “guaranteed” to fit in the overhead bin. These bags, once overstuffed, either don’t fit at all, or take a couple of minutes of shoving — while your fellow passengers stack up in the aisle, waiting with rapidly diminishing patience. Cloth bags that can squash a bit are a better bet.
Bringing presents? Bring small ones, or have them shipped to your destination. Full flights mean full overhead bins.
If you’ll be checking a bag or two, again, try not to overstuff. Someone besides you may have to open your suitcase for an inspection, and if you just barely got it closed, they’ll have trouble, too.
If you’ve got seat preferences — aisle, window, bulkhead, front of the plane, or back by the lavatories — your best bet is to try to pick your seats when you book your flights. If that’s not an option, many airlines are now offering online check-in at their web sites, the day of or day before your flight.
Note that bulkhead seats, while offering extra knee room and a guarantee that no one will recline a seatback into your nose, have no room “under the seat in front of you” for your laptop or purse or backpack. Carrying as little as possible onto the plane with you thus becomes even more important.
Bring a snack and a bottle of water, in case your flight has no beverage service, or in case delays keep you from getting to supper when you planned. If your airline sells snacks or meals, keep in mind they have to guess how many they’ll sell, and sometimes they run out, so don’t count on buying food on the plane. Individually wrapped granola bars or oatmeal squares, single-serving cereal boxes or raisins, or carefully packed sandwiches work well. Leave the messy food, and extra-perishable items like tuna or mayo, at home.
Getting ready for travel
This may seem obvious to you, but, just because you'll be traveling all day, don't skip the shower! Your fellow travelers will thank you. Additionally, think about your seat mates before you spray on anything heavily scented, like perfume or cologne.
Comfort and convenience are the watchwords when it comes to travelwear. Skip the fashionable-but-uncomfortable, such as tight jeans or high heels, in favor of loose and comfy garb. A light jacket or fleece will protect you from over-air-conditioned airports or planes, even if you don’t think you’ll need a coat.
Slip-on shoes come in handy if you have to remove them for a security scan; avoid heavy shoes with metal shanks or strips in the sole that will set off metal detectors and slow you down. Speaking of that security check, take a few moments before you head to the security line (perhaps even at home) to get excess stuff out of your pockets and into a carry-on. Gum wrappers, coins, pens, cell phones, and so forth will all slow you down — and delay the passengers behind you.
Especially if you’re checking luggage, allow just a little bit of extra time to get to the airport through what may be heavier than usual traffic, park in what may be an unusually full lot, and wait in what you can be certain will be extra-long lines.
Add at least an extra half hour to the amount of time your airline asks you to allow. Irritating as airport waiting lounges may be, it’s much better to sit around for an extra half hour than to have to rush — or miss your flight on a day when spare seats are hard to come by.
If you’re a frequent traveler, you’re already familiar with the “stuff happens” maxim. (You may use a different word. It’s OK; we understand.) Sometimes, whether it’s weather, a mechanical problem, or just a screw-up, something will go wrong. You’ll be delayed, or re-routed, or stuck overnight.
No matter the situation, the one thing you can count on is that blowing your stack won’t help — and there’s no sense in ruining someone else’s day. A smile and a calm word is vastly more likely to get some sympathetic assistance from an airline representative who can get you where you’re going. Don’t underestimate the value of a ticket agent who’s on your side when you ask for help!
You’ll get there! The better prepared you are for your travels, the more likely you’ll arrive on time (more or less), and not too frazzled. We wish you safe travels and happy landings!