“Twas was the night before Christmas and across all the ramps, not an aircraft was stirring all due to the snow…..” That line will strike fear into the heart of any experienced traveler and many of us have horror stories that sound similar. A few of mine involve Christmas Eve at O’Hare, snow in Atlanta, ice at Dallas-Ft. Worth, and the list goes on. What do each of these tales have in common? Bad weather, a time crunch and the busiest travel days of the year. Whether you are in a five-hour line for de-icing, stuck on the ramp in sight of the gate for over four hours, or in the re-booking line for the third time, it is miserable. What are a few holiday travel tips for surviving the experience? Here are a few that may help.
Stress reduction starts well ahead of the trip. If at all possible, avoid the worst day(s) of the year. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after and the day or two before and after Christmas. These are miserable days for air travel. It is not fun to mis-connect or have your luggage rerouted (lost) both directions. If you do have to travel on these days, the earlier in the day the better. I try to hold to the policy that of the first flight in the morning, or at least not the last connections of the night – the key here is options for rerouting if/when something goes wrong. With most flights fully booked, the more options the better.
Check your gifts and most of your clothes, this is not the time of the year to be that passenger who has the worlds largest carry-on. If you have preferred status or an airline credit card, you often have one or two free checked bags – use this benefit. For gifts, the better plan is to ship your gifts – the arrival odds greatly increase this way and you aren’t paying bag fees or lugging them through the airport. If you are ordering a gift, have it drop shipped to your destination.
Next, plan for the worst. What do you absolutely need to survive for a few days if you do get stuck in an airport, a hotel or your bags go to Bermuda while you go to Buffalo? Use a bag that is smaller than the carry-on size. Think under-the-seat-in-front-of-you size so you can find space. You don’t want your survival bag gate-checked. You only need to have enough clothing, toiletries, medication and supplies to last two days, and remember they have stores where you are going. Pack the critical items – undergarments, socks, the TSA limits on liquids and any medications. If you are really good at this, you can buy underwear that can be washed and dry overnight. Trust me, when baggage claim belt stops moving before your luggage arrives, you will be in a better mood knowing you can survive for the day or two it will take for your luggage to arrive.
Always have snacks and water with you. Most airports have water bottle filling stations past security – we bring empty bottles with us and fill them up before boarding. Snacks must be airplane friendly – granola bars, trail mix, packaged crackers and even a candy bar. Leave the stinky shrimp flavored crackers at home. You could probably live a day or two out of my carry-on bag. If you have any medical issues that require specific foods, it is critical that you plan for your own needs.
If you have earned preferred status on an airline or at a hotel chain, this is the time of year it can pay off. When things go wrong, start dialing or typing. If you are at the airport and need to be rerouted, call reservations while you are in line. Generally, preferred status members receive faster handing on the phone queue and these agents can do almost everything a gate agent can. If you need a hotel you will probably need to see the gate agent or possible a self-service kiosk – remember you are responsible for lodging in almost every situation, not the airline. If you are in the air and things start to go wrong, connect via the WI-fi. Most airlines provide free access to their website from the air. I have rerouted in the air and had my boarding pass sent to my phone. When I landed, I just proceed to the new gate!
This is the time of the year where an airline club access is helpful. The clubs will be crowded, as every club member is bringing in their entire family. However, the ticket agents in the clubs are some of the best, most creative agents at the airport. Many times I have gone to the club for a reroute and then back on the concourse to find a quiet place to relax.
The last Holiday travel tip is to take a deep breath when things go wrong. Arguing with an airline employee will rarely bring good results. Every other passenger is trying to get home for the Holidays too, don’t think you are the only one. Traveling over the Holidays can be very stressful, but you can control the stress level with good planning and readjusting your expectations.
I know some very experienced travelers read the blog, what are your best Holiday Travel Tips?
See you out there in the trenches, er, terminals!