How To Survive The Holiday Air Travel Rush
The holidays are the busiest travel time of the year. Students from colleges across the country are headed home to spend time with their families and friends. Young families also make the trip to visit relatives. The holidays are supposed to be a happy time of year when work and school take a back seat to leisure activities. Unfortunately, late November and December are the most stressful time of year for air travel. At airports, crowds are heavy and lines long. Poor weather can add to the stress level by increasing the chances for flight delays and cancellations.
There are ways to avoid the overly-stressful atmosphere that descends on terminals around the country during the holidays. Here are some tips for making this year’s airplane trip less of an ordeal.
First, all airports will be busy, but some will be busier than others. Major airports, the LAXs and JFKs of the country, will be packed during peak flying hours (8 a.m. to 9 p.m.) on busy travel days before and after Thanksgiving and Christmas. If there is a viable secondary option (like Chicago Midway, as opposed to O’Hare), it might be worth considering. That said, if you choose to fly during the peak times mentioned above, there is bound to be more of a crowd than usual.
Another option is to opt for a red-eye flight. On the two days before Thanksgiving and the days before the Christmas-New Year holiday, the best option for avoiding the long lines at check in and security is to fly as late as possible. The airport will be busier than it normally is during the overnight hours, but it will be far less chaotic than it is during the daytime and evening. On peak days, thing should slow down at around 10 at night until 6 or 7 the following morning.
To really avoid the crowds, you will have to fly several days before or after the holiday. This is not an option for people on a tight schedule (students with a limited amount of time off or employees who can’t get more than a few days vacation), but it is the only way to truly avoid the rush. The only other option is to try and fly on the holiday itself. Most people are sprinting to get home so that they can spend the time with their family and friends. They want to arrive before the festivities begin. People who can delay the party a little while have a better chance of avoiding long lines and delayed flights. For this reason, both Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day are good times to fly.
If you cant beat the crowds to the airport, at least you can prepare yourself for the onslaught of humanity. If there was ever a good time to carry-on all your luggage, the holiday travel season is it. While other passengers are waiting in slow-moving lines, you can simply make your way to the security checkpoint. At the very least, you can check your bags online before coming to the airport (most major airlines allow you to do this). You might even consider shipping a box of belongings (or holiday gifts) to your destination instead of checking a bag. Also, you can be liberal with your carry-on requirements. Pack your carry-on suitcase and use your under-the-seat baggage allowance to fill a small backpack with additional items. The worst thing that could happen is that the airline could ask you to check one of your bags when you board the plane. You may be charged a checked baggage fee, but you will have already boarded the plane, escaping the long lines at the ticketing and baggage check counter.
Also, carry-on-only fliers will be able to speed by the chaotic baggage claim area once they arrive at their destination.
Checking-in online before you go to the airport is another way to save time. All major carriers allow passengers to print boarding passes online up to 24 hours before departure time. Also, consider taking public transportation to the airport. Even if traffic on the way to the airport is not heavy, the parking lots and passenger drop-off areas are going to be grossly overcrowded.
No matter what, you’ll have to arrive at the airport earlier than normal during peak holiday travel days, even if you take all the streamlining measures possible.