Traveling by air during the holiday season can be quite a hassle. However, with these 12 tips, your experience will likely be much more bearable.
1. Morning Flights Are Best
First of all, weather tends to be calm in the morning. This lessens the chance that you will have weather-related delays. Second, if your flight gets cancelled (or for whatever reason you cannot make the flight), you may have other options later in the day. Frequently, airlines will have multiple flights to the same location (or alternative routes) that can get you to your destination without having to return to the airport the next day.
2. Transfer in the South
If you have a layover, make sure it is in the South. Most major airlines use a “hub and spoke” model, where they direct traffic to a central “hub” and then send flights out to the “spokes.” For many travelers, this means you will have at least one layover. Even non-traditional airlines such as JetBlue and Southwest will have you make at least one stop. So why pick a layover in the South? Because it is winter time and you don’t want to be delayed by the snow. For example, if you are traveling from the east to the west coast on American Airlines, you will probably have two choices of layovers; Chicago and Dallas-Ft. Worth are both American hubs. You may be tempted to go through Chicago if the flight is cheaper. However, Chicago may be dealing with a winter storm that delays, or even cancels, flights. Dallas-Ft. Worth most likely won’t have a major blizzard event.
3. Be Familiar with Your Airport of Transfer
You should be familiar with the airport where you have a layover. If you have never traveled through the airport before, look up the map online. Get a rough idea of how the concourses are laid out and find out if there are any airport transit services, such as monorails or buses. Also, know if you have to leave secured areas to get to your connecting flight. If so, you will have to go through a TSA checkpoint again. New York LaGuardia Airport and Newark Airport are examples of locations that require this. Gate changes can happen at any time, and if that happens, you may not know where your next flight is departing from until you land. Be prepared by becoming familiar with your airport of transfer ahead of time.
4. Avoid Checked Baggage
A checked bag will only slow you down. First, you have to wait in line to turn in your bag. This tends to not be the fastest process. Second, you will have to wait to get your bags at your destination…if your bags make it to your destination at all. There are many horror stories about bags ending up not just on the wrong flight, but in the wrong country. Finally, if you have anything breakable in the bag you check, it will probably get broken. I have experienced this firsthand with Dominican Rum. Lots of broken glass had to be thrown out, along with a very sticky suitcase.
5. Take Your phone Off Airplane Mode ASAP
This is critical if you have a layover. Why? If you leave your phone on airplane mode, it won’t get a signal which means it won’t update the time if you passed through a time zone. Flights depart on local time, so if your phone hasn’t updated and you rely on it for time, you may miss your flight. Believe it or not, this happens often.
6. Direct Flights Are Best
Let me put it this way: If you have a direct flight and it is delayed, you will eventually get to your destination. If you have a connecting flight and your first flight is delayed, your second flight isn’t going to wait around for you. Once you miss your second flight, you are now stuck. You are neither home nor at your destination, so you will either have to find a new flight or get an airline-issued toothbrush for the night.
7. When You Have a Layover, Get to the Gate ASAP
This is true even if you have a long layover. Get to your gate first and then find food or charge your phone battery. At your gate you will be able to hear announcements and know what is happening to your next flight. Furthermore, a missing airplane at your gate might indicate that you need to make new travel plans. The sooner you get to the gate, the sooner you’ll find out if you need to make these new last-minute travel plans.
8. Take Advantage of Standby
Here is another reason not to check your bags: You can’t fly without being on the same flight as your checked bags. Often, if you have a long layover you may discover that a different, yet earlier, flight is heading to your destination. If you have no checked bags, this means you can get added to the standby list. If that flight has an open seat, you get to head to your destination early and spend less time in the airport.
9. The Week Before is the Best Time to Change Seats
Often times, at the last minute people change their travel plans. This means there may be some good seats that become available during the week before flying. It is often worth a look a few days before your departure date to check to see if better seats have opened up.
10. Go for Seats Up Front
If you have a choice, where should you sit? As close as possible to the front door of the plane. Being in the front of economy class versus the back of the plane could mean the difference of 15-20 minutes when you’re exiting the plane. That could be valuable time if you have a tight schedule for making a connecting flight.
11. Look for Multiple TSA Checkpoints
TSA is probably the least enjoyable part of flying (unless you enjoy that type of special attention). In many airports, there are multiple TSA checkpoints. You may get through security faster if you go through a more out-of-the-way security line. Of course, before you do this, make sure the TSA checkpoint you are going through actually connects with the terminal your flight is departing from.
12. Download Your Airline’s App
Many airlines now have their own apps for smart phones, which provide multiple benefits. Not only can you see the status of your flight, but you can also see alternatives flights. You may be able to check in through your phone, use the phone as your boarding pass, and in some cases airlines will let you access certain Internet content during the flight through their app.
Hopefully these tips will help you tackle your holiday air travel like a seasoned pro, and most importantly, get to your destination on time for the festivities.