I was looking for flights to Florida the other day – and having a rather rough time of it – when it dawned on me that the holidays are upon us. Which means busier airports, longer lines, and more people fighting for space on flights. If you’re part of that crowd I have a few tried and tested tips for holiday flights.
Book Your Flight Early
We all know how supply and demand works. And demand is high from mid-November thru New Year’s Eve. If you need more than one seat, plan to book your flight as early as feasible; I recommend at least 6 weeks, no fewer than 4 weeks, from your selected departure date. As you get closer to the date you plan to leave flights get fuller and it can become difficult to find seats- let alone seats together- for your family.
Know When to Utilize a Travel Agent
It’s easy to book a flight online. Click, click, enter info, one more click, and you’re done. Which is handy- as long as you make sure to read the fine print. Do those flights include all the fees? Does that international flight include meals or baggage? I usually call my travel agent when I am planning a trip- just to see if she can get a better deal for me. A travel agent may also be able to hold flight tickets for you up to 24 hours before finalizing a purchase. This is especially handy if you have to coordinate flights with others. Another great reason to use a travel agent? Typos. If you misspell a name on an airline reservation you will, at the very least, have to pay a fee to the airline to change the name. In some cases you will even have to buy a replacement ticket. If the travel agent makes the mistake all additional charges are handled by the agency.
Pay More for the Direct Flight
This can be difficult, especially if you fly out of small airports, like we do. We make sure that our connecting flights are south in the winter- we avoid Minneapolis and Denver in the winter and Chicago as much as possible! The extra cash outlay is also helpful to avoid any grumpy travelers on long layovers.
Plan a Longer Layover
If a layover can’t be avoided, try to plan for 90 minutes- or even a bit longer. This is helpful for two reasons; 1) it gives the kids a chance to stretch their legs after sitting still for a while and 2) just in case you do have a delay you have a chance to still make your connection.
Fly on a Holiday
Flights are much less crowded on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Or fly 3-4 days before or after the holiday. Whenever possible avoid the days directly before or after the holiday. And don’t fly the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Ever.
Check In Online
Most carriers allow you to check in up to 24 hours in advance of your flight. If you don’t have luggage to check all you will have to do is walk to security. Because the holidays bring out families and infrequent travelers I recommend traveling with only a carry on. Ship items ahead- especially gifts.
Don’t Wrap Gifts before Flying
From the TSA website: Do not pack wrapped gifts and do not bring wrapped gifts to the checkpoint. Wrap on arrival or ship your gifts prior to your departure. TSA may have to unwrap packages for security reasons. You have been warned.
Airports are busier than usual during the holidays and many are inexperienced fliers or families. Plan for delays before you even get through security.
Know the 3:1:1
3 ounces; 1 quart size baggie; 1 per person. The nice thing about traveling with kids is that they never fill their baggie. Take advantage of that space while you can! Also know that screeners everywhere are different. We are allowed to walk through screening in Des Moines just fine, but have items that were ok at home taken from us in Dallas.
Smaller airports don’t have scanners, but larger ones do. But not all security lines lead to scanners. Pay attention and choose a line far from the scanner. If you can’t do that, watch for a line for pat downs. Be polite, it will make the entire process easier. And remember, kids no longer have to take off their shoes at screening points. More tips for avoiding full body scans.
If you’re flying with children take the offered opportunity and board first. Otherwise board as instructed. In most cases you have a reserved seat; it’s not going to disappear. Place your carry on as close to your seat as you can- without putting it behind you. Keep the kids carry on’s and anything you will need during the flight under the seat in front of you so it is easy to reach.
Unless you have a flight to catch I recommend waiting to get off the plane. It gives you a few minutes to make sure you didn’t leave anything in the seat pocket and, really, why stress over what amounts to a few minutes? If you do have a very narrow window to catch your next flight let a flight attendant know- they may get you off the flight first.
Remember, the holidays are for celebrating. Simple planning can keep you from being a Scrooge. Do you have a favorite tip for flying during the holidays? Let’s talk about it in the comments!
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