The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most headache-inducing time for travelers. Visiting family comes with enough stresses on its own, and for many, a trip to the airport is enough to push them close to the edge. Here are some tips to help you prepare in advance and, with any luck, ease any travel-related anxiety. As for dealing with the in-laws, well, you’re on your own.
Items on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s list of permitted and prohibited items change frequently, so it’s important to brush up if you haven’t traveled recently. Currently, for example, potentially dangerous items including lighters, scissors, and knitting needles are all allowed in carry-on luggage, but seemingly innocent objects such as gel shoe inserts and snow globes are not. However, always pack essential medications, valuables, and jewelry in your carry-on bag and keep it with you at all times.
If you’re bringing gifts, remember to leave them unwrapped; otherwise, security officials may unwrap them whether they’re in checked or carry-on bags.
Leave the car at home
Hitching a ride to and from the airport with a willing friend or relative is ideal during the holidays, when airport lots tend to be filled to capacity. If you must drive, reserve your spot in advance using AirportParkingReservations.com or the Park ‘N Fly Network.
The more time you have, the less stressed you’ll feel if things go wrong. Plan to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes in advance for domestic flights; more for international trips. Most airlines post suggested arrival times on their websites. Also, check the status of your flight before you leave for the airport—that way you’ll know ahead of time if there’s a delay.
Know your check-in options
If you can manage to cram your clothes into a carry-on, you can check in online and bypass the airline’s check-in counter entirely. But, if you must check bags, scan curbside check-in counters, airport kiosks, and manned check-in desks to see if one has a particularly short line. Paying $2 per bag outside may be worth it if you don’t have to wait in a long line inside.
Even so, you should still consider checking in online (even if you are checking baggage), as it will reduce your chances of being bumped at the departure gate. Airlines tend to bump passengers that check in last, so by printing your boarding pass at home and dropping off your bags once you arrive at the airport, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Be prepared for security
The TSA’s 3-1-1 system for liquids is still in effect: each traveler is permitted to bring one clear, quart-size zip-top bag of liquids or gels, in three-ounce or smaller containers.
Preparing in the security line can save time at the metal detector. Take loose change, cell phones, and other metal out of your pockets ahead of time, and remove your laptop from its case. Get ready to remove your shoes and take off your jacket before you are inspected, too.
Of course, there is only so much you can control when traveling, as delayed flights, inclement weather, and crowded airports are all a part of the holiday travel season. Staying patient and keeping your sense of humor can go a long way in easing headaches. Good luck!