Traveling by air these days is rarely fun. Traveling during the holidays can be an outright hassle. But, why not take some tips from the road warriors who travel all the time and have mastered the art of air travel with minimal pain. Here are six tips that will make this holiday season's travel woes a little less complicated and much more enjoyable.
#1 Pack Small for Carry-On
Today, almost every airline has a fee for checking your bags. Ideally, it would be nice to avoid them altogether but with gifts and heavy winter clothing that may not be possible. First, remember that carry-on bags are limited in size and with a growing backlash from frequent flyers that play by the rules the airlines will be stepping up enforcement of carry-on bag sizes. Most airlines restrict carry-on bags to 22" x 14" x 9" or a total of 45". Don't even think of taking that big 26 incher on board. You will get flagged.
#2 Check No More Than One Bag
Most likely you will still have to check one bag for each of you. OK, but try not to make it two or that second bag will really cost you. The good news is that the weight of the bag you check can be up to 50 pounds for US travel without incurring an overweight fee. That's a lot of clothes and stuff for a long weekend. Try to use common or coordinating colors amongst all the clothes so you can mix and match a small number of items for the greatest number of outfit combinations. And, do you really need all those shoes?
#3 What to Do with the Gifts
Holiday travel brings the special problem of how to transport gifts. For starters, try not to gift-wrap any gift. If the TSA doesn't like what they see when they scan it they will rip off the gift-wrapping to inspect it. If the gift is not valuable, or not of a common nature like and electronic item or golf balls, consider packing them in your suitcase whether it is checked or not. Expense items like jewelry, electronics, etc., should be carried on board preferably in your suitcase to minimize items.
#4 Always Use a TSA Lock
For every checked piece of luggage you should use a TSA approved lock. They are readily available at office supply, travel and department stores. They provide you with the ability to set a combination and the TSA with the ability to open it with a master key in case they need to inspect it. Don't be intimidated if the airline agent at check-in tells you luggage needs to be unlocked. It doesn't. Just say you have a TSA lock and things will be fine.
#5 Picking Your Seats
Most airlines on most US flights allow you to pick your seat assignments at the time you buy your ticket. Take advantage of this because planes will fill up for the holiday and you and your loved ones traveling with you may be scattered all over the plane. Often times it is not possible to get all the seat assignments you want in one location in the cabin. Expertflyer.com has just introduced a unique feature to allow you to designate specific seats on a specific flight that are assigned and be alerted by email if they become free. You can then contact your airline, or go on their website, and change your seat assignment to the one desired. Be aware that some airlines may charge you to have your seat reassigned if you did not purchase your ticket directly from them.
#6 When Things Don't Go According to Plan
Inevitably, holiday travel will bring out some nasty delays as weather and the exceptional number of people traveling strain the system. Bring some snack bars in case your flight is delayed or you miss your connection. When planning your route, if it involves a connection don't chose the connection with a tight connection of an hour or less. If your inbound flight is delayed you and/or your bags stand a good chance of missing your connecting flight and with flights expected to be full your chances of getting on the next flight are slim at best. Many times there are more than one connecting flights, however websites and travel agents may only offer you the one with the shortest connection time. Ask if there is a later connection to give you more time and less anxiety.
Air travel is still the most reliable and quickest way to get to your holiday destination. A few common sense tricks to keep in mind can also make it less stressful and more enjoyable.
Have a good flight...and a great holiday!
By John Lopinto