At 5 a.m. on a Saturday, I expect an airport to be deserted. Not so this past weekend. Holiday travelers were in full force at Washington's National Airport. Check-in and security lines were longer than usual, and even the first-class line at American's counter was several flyers deep.
Based on my experience, I'd highly recommend building extra time into your travel schedule. Showing up an hour before your flight won't give you enough breathing room this December. At 5:20 a.m., I was still waiting to check my bags, while frantic airline representatives pulled people on my flight out of the economy line so they wouldn't miss the 5:35 a.m. check-in cutoff.
Once my bags were tagged, I had to deposit them at the security screening area. This meant leaving my luggage in a long line of other bags sitting out in the terminal. Not only was it not clear that my bag would get screened and onto the plane in time, it seemed quite likely that someone could simply walk off with my bag, or worse, tuck an explosive or other contraband inside. Indeed, two other journalists boarded our weekend cruise without their luggage because their suitcases never made it on the plane.
You can save a lot of holiday travel stress if you arrive at the airport a half hour to an hour earlier than usual. It doesn't hurt to familiarize yourself with current TSA security requirements, either. The better prepared you are, the smoother your holiday trip will be.