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Six tips for avoiding airport hassles this holiday season

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Woman waiting in an airport (Photo: IndexOpen)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on November 17, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, holiday, Jessica Labrencis.

Visions of frazzled nerves, long lines, and lengthy delays at the airport have many travelers already dreading their holiday flights. To make your trip to the airport less painful, we've compiled several time-saving tips that will help you avoid hassles and delays this holiday season, both before you leave and once you arrive at the airport.

Before you go

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Check in online

Although many airlines have offered online check-in for several years, some travelers still don't utilize this time-saving option. Most airlines allow passengers to check in up to 24 hours in advance, select seat assignments, and print boarding passes, thus eliminating the need to wait in lengthy airport check-in lines. To check in online, go to your airline's website, look for the online check-in link, and have your flight and confirmation numbers handy.

Travelers with only carry-on baggage can proceed straight to security at the airport. Those who must check bags may be able to do so at an airport check-in kiosk, a curbside check-in station, or at the airline check-in counter, depending on airline.

Follow the packing rules

Know your airline's weight and size restrictions for carry-ons and checked bags. Holiday flights are likely to be filled to capacity, allowing less room in the cabin for carry-on bags. Additionally, airlines have become much more stringent with their baggage policies, so if your bags are too large or overweight, you may have to pay a fee or check your carry-on luggage at the gate.

Remember to leave gifts unwrapped. If gift-wrapped packages can't be easily identified, security officials will unwrap them, causing even more delays.

Stay informed about delays

With winter weather a concern at this time of year, it's wise to check your airline's website to see if your flight is delayed before you leave for the airport. Knowing that your flight has been pushed back by a few hours before you get to their airport will lessen the time spent in the departures lounge.

Also, the Federal Aviation Administration website shows information about nationwide airport delays provided by the Air Traffic Control System Command Center. The Transportation Security Administration website provides historical security-checkpoint-delay information to give travelers a better idea of how long they can expect to wait, given their airport, travel day, and flight time.

Reserve parking

Several travel companies allow travelers to reserve parking before arriving at the airport. If you must drive to the airport (and we strongly encourage arranging a ride or taking public transportation whenever possible), it's smart to reserve a spot before you get there.

The Park 'N Fly Network offers pre-paid parking reservations at 40 airports around the country. Airport Parking Reservations is another option for finding a space in the U.S. and Canada.

At the airport

Leave breathing room

One of the most important things you can do to lessen stress is arrive at the airport with plenty of extra time. Traffic jams, filled parking lots, crowds of travelers, endless lines, and other uncontrollable hassles can eat up time quickly. For most travelers, it's preferable to pad the travel day with extra time rather than racing frantically to the gate five minutes before departure.

Be prepared

Security lines at major airports tend to be slow at any time of year. While there isn't much the average traveler can do to speed the lines along, it's smart to be prepared when it's your turn to be screened.

Be sure to have your boarding pass and proper identification ready before reaching the security line.

The TSA's website has a comprehensive list of prohibited items, which will help you know which things to leave at home (for example, lighters are banned, but some scissors are not). Before stepping through the metal detector, remove your overcoat, take your laptop out of its case, and remove any metallic objects from your pockets. Also, although the TSA maintains that shoe removal is not necessary, taking off your shoes may end up saving you time.

Armed with our tips, a healthy dose of patience, and your sense of humor, you can expect your time at the airport to run a little more smoothly this holiday season.

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