How to avoid December holiday travel woes - Page 2

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on December 20, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, booking strategy, holiday, hotel, Sarah Pascarella, winter.

  • In many cases, your bags simply got stuck at your departure city or were put on a different flight. Most airlines attempt to get your bag back to you within 24 hours.
  • Some airlines will give you a free toiletries kit, if you request it. Others, such as Northwest, United, and US Airways, may provide a per-diem stipend to cover basic expenses until your luggage is returned.
  • If your luggage is lost, you can get some money back: for domestic checked bags, up to $2,800 per passenger; for international checked bags, approximately $600. Be prepared to deal with a lot of paperwork. Also, if you purchased your air ticket with American Express, MasterCard, or Visa, send an inquiry to your credit card company—sometimes they offer baggage insurance at no additional cost. Note that this should only be a backup plan, however, as your card company will request that you attempt to settle the issue with the airline first.

Rude customer service

Let's face it—during the holidays, even the cheeriest of customer service clerks may turn into a Grinch. Long lines, endless hours on one's feet, and irritable patrons all combine (on a daily basis) for a job full of misery. As such, you may encounter something other than a smile at the check-in desk this holiday season.

Keeping a cool head, being proactively polite, and dealing with a problematic situation immediately and thoroughly may be your best defense. If these tactics don't work and you feel you're being slighted, you can always ask to speak to a manager or supervisor. Take down names, notes of all pertinent information (flight numbers, reroutings, etc.), and keep records of all conversations. If the customer-service representative or manager still doesn't offer satisfactory service, consider filing a complaint.


Before you go to the airport, consult our handy list of airline customer service numbers. It may be a good idea to jot down your carrier's number (as well as other airlines') in case you are delayed or canceled, need to make alternate arrangements, or want to report a grievance.

Horrible traffic jams

I recently made the mistake of traveling from my home city of Boston to New York on the Friday night of a holiday weekend. The trip, which typically spans four to five hours, took a whopping eight hours, beleaguered by crawling traffic, road construction, and bad weather. If you know you're going to be traveling a highly congested route, particularly over the holidays, take the following steps to ensure a smoother trip:

  • Take advantage of off-peak times: In the past, I've done the Boston to New York route early on a Saturday morning, and gotten in without a hitch. A friend traveled to Connecticut (with its cities known for standstill traffic on a normal day) on the day before Thanksgiving, but didn't leave until 10 p.m. And while she got in late, she hit virtually no traffic.
  • Use public transportation: If you can leave your car behind, it may make your trip easier. Consider traveling by train or commuter rail, if possible.
  • Bring snacks and entertainment: If you're traveling with kids, you already know to pack the essentials. But a few extra splurges could go a long way when you're going a long way—consider purchasing a personal DVD player so the kids can while the hours away with their favorite movies; travel games; and a few special-occasion snacks. With such entertaining diversions, you may even get the kids looking forward to the next road trip.

Do you have a foolproof holiday travel strategy that avoids headaches, saves money, or makes the most of your too-brief vacation time? We want to hear it! If you have a great holiday travel tip you'd like to share, send it to

Happy holidays to all!
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