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Five ways to avoid airport hassles this holiday season

The travel period leading into Thanksgiving and stretching to the New Year is the busiest of the year. If you’re traveling by air this holiday season, you should be prepared to wait in long lines everywhere from the parking lot to check-in to security. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to cut down on delays.

1. Know your check-in options

If you don?t travel frequently, or haven?t traveled by air in a few years, you might not be aware of new time-saving options many airlines have introduced to make checking in quicker. Besides the traditional reservations counter check-in, other check-in options include online check-in, curbside check-in, and electronic kiosk check-in.

Online check-in allows you to print your boarding pass from your own computer before you arrive at the airport. Once you arrive, you can proceed directly to security, bypassing long check-in lines (unless you have baggage to check). Check baggage at a curbside check-in stand or an airport kiosk.

All of the major airlines and most small and/or low-fare airlines offer online check-in. To qualify, you must have an electronic ticket (travelers with paper tickets must check in with a reservations agent). You can check in online up to 24 hours in advance, and as late as 60 to 90 minutes before your flight, depending on the airline.

Online check-in features vary by airline as well. Most airlines currently offer online check-in primarily for domestic travel (although many also include the Caribbean, Canada, and Puerto Rico). However, some notable exceptions are Northwest and US Airways. Both airlines offer online check-in for all domestic and international flights. United offers online check-in only for its Mileage Plus members.

If you are unable or unwilling to check in online, most airlines also offer curbside check-in and check-in kiosks, which are likely to have lines but will allow you to bypass an even longer wait at the check-in counter.

2. Be early

It?s likely that at some point at the airport, you will be delayed by circumstances beyond your control. Pad your schedule with extra time. Airlines suggest arriving at least 60 to 90 minutes early for domestic flights, and two hours early for international flights. If you?re traveling on peak days (the day before or after a holiday) or peak travel times (morning, early evening), be sure to give yourself extra time to contend with traffic, lines, and other schedule snags.

3. Leave the car at home

Expect airport parking lots to be at capacity and avoid parking at the airport. If possible, get a ride from a friend or family member, or take public transportation, a taxi, or an airport shuttle service.

If you must park at the airport, consider spending the night before your flight at an airport hotel. Many hotels will allow you to park your car for free, and will provide airport shuttle service. If this idea is appealing to you, check with airport hotels in your departure city to find out specifics about parking and shuttle service.

Or, use an airport reservations service. Reserve a spot in an off-airport lot (self-park, valet, covered parking, and more), and avoid searching for a spot at the airport. Most provide shuttle service to and from the airport. Airport Parking Reservations is one option, but there are many more.

4. Be prepared

Waiting in airport security lines, and going through security, will eat up a lot of your time. Getting ready before you?re at the metal detectors is all you can do to speed the process along.

Be certain you have the appropriate identification for your flight. Domestic flights require government-issued photo IDs, while international flights require a passport, and in some cases, a visa. Check with your airline before getting to the airport if you?re unsure about your flight’s identification requirements.

Remove your jacket and shoes. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not require passengers to remove shoes, but because most footwear requires additional screening, it?s a good idea to put your shoes through the screening machine before being asked to do so. Take your laptop computer out of its case, and be prepared to turn it on. Put all coins, jewelry, cell phones, and pagers into your carry-on. And, put all undeveloped film into your carry-on as well, as high-powered screeners can damage film packed in checked baggage.

Don?t over-pack. TSA officials randomly select bags to search, and if yours can?t be easily zipped up, it will delay you even more. If you lock your luggage, be sure to use a TSA-approved lock.

5. Ship your gifts

If you’re bringing presents home with you for the holidays, ship any wrapped gifts before you fly. Due to heightened airport security measures, you could be asked to open wrapped gifts. If you prefer to travel with your gifts, wrap them after you reach your destination.

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