Flying over the holidays doesn’t have to be stressful. A little preparation—and paying attention to the details—can help make your trip as easy as pie.
It could have been worse, I thought, as we taxied down the snowy runway at Boston’s Logan Airport. My flight home had been delayed twice by a winter nor’easter—first overnight, and then again by a few hours in the morning. But I wasn’t nearly as cranky as some of my fellow travelers, who gave the impression they’d rather be at the mall exchanging gifts on the day after Christmas.
By contrast, I was relaxed and ready to settle in for my cross-country flight. Why did such a compromised trip turn out to be so stress-free? Follow these 5 tips and you too can be ready to face the unpredictable challenges of traveling during the holiday season.
1. Pack for the new security rules
Ignore the latest TSA requirements at your peril: Not only could you lose precious time as you scramble to make your plane, but you could also be forced to pitch your favorite perfume or that expensive bottle of wine.
The revised rules are fairly straightforward: You’re allowed to carry liquid, gel or aerosol products through security in containers of 3 ounces or less, provided these items can fit in a clear-plastic quart-sized zip-top bag. Got those details? Three ounces and one quart-sized bag. If you want to bring your liquid, gel or aerosol items in larger quantities, you have to put them in your checked luggage—or buy those products after you’ve passed through security. There are a few exceptions that can be carried in larger amounts, such as prescription medications and baby formula, so be sure to check the TSA Web site for complete details.
Also, you’re now required to take off your shoes as well as remove laptops from your bag. As you snake through the security queue, pull out your laptop before you get close to the scanner. Then you won’t hold up the travelers behind you as you fumble with your belongings. And when you get to the other side of the checkpoint, be sure you have the right laptop; it’s entirely too easy for you to accidentally pick up someone else’s machine.
2. Keep your gifts unwrapped
If you’re bringing presents, be sure to leave them unwrapped until you arrive at your destination. That’s because TSA screeners may need to inspect the contents before clearing your checked or carry-on bag. You may want to consider shipping the gifts to your destination in advance, which could also save you from paying an overweight baggage fee.
3. Lose the pounds on your luggage
Packing light won’t just help you avoid straining your shoulders; it’s also a good way to keep you from draining your pocketbook. Most airlines allow you to check two pieces of baggage of up to 50 pounds each. Overweight bags of up to 70 pounds will cost you at least $25, and you’ll pay an extra $80-$85 for a third checked bag. If you absolutely have to bring all that on your trip, consider using a door-to-door service like Luggage Express, which will save you the hassle of schlepping your heavy bags into the airport.
4. Leave yourself enough time
With about 65 million people expected to travel during the holiday season, according to the Air Transport Association, you’re bound to run into delays on the freeway, at the parking garage, in the security line and on the runway. Take a deep breath and don’t be surprised if everything takes a little longer than usual. Also, be sure to build enough time into your schedule if you plan to check your luggage: New airline rules require you to complete check-in, depending on your airport, no less than 30 to 45 minutes before departure. As a general guideline, you’ll want to be at the airport at least one hour before departure for domestic flights, and at least two hours for international flights.
5. Print your boarding passes on the Web
One good way to save time at the airport is to bypass the ticket counter entirely. Check in on the Web and you’ll be able to select or improve your seating assignment and avoid waiting in line. Even if you’re checking bags, you can still print your boarding pass online and take care of your luggage by using either an airport kiosk or curbside check-in. Be aware, however, that in some cities, it’ll cost you $2 per bag to use the curbside service.