Top 10 Holiday Travel Tips

Tough travel day when the deicing fluid freezes

Tough travel day when the deicing fluid freezes

Snow, ice, and cold temperatures have hit North America a lot earlier this year. With the crush of Christmas/New Years travel starting this weekend, here’s the TravelCommons’ top holiday travel tips…

  1. Fly Direct — This is the top tip every time I put this list together. Holiday travel stacks up problems —  high passenger load factors combined with winter weather disruptions almost guarantees late arrivals and missed connections. Pay the extra $100 for a direct flight.
  2. Skip the Tight Connection — If you can’t fly direct, give yourself enough time to survive a late inbound flight. Take the 90- or 120-minute connection. Worst case is you get to try some great Mexican food in O’Hare or barbecue in Memphis.
  3. Catch the Early Flight — Delays stack up as the day wears on.  As your airplane goes from airport to airport, the probability of it getting stuck increases.  Overnight, airlines have a chance to recover – late planes finally get their destinations and operations groups can reassign planes.  So while the last flight out can be a crap shoot, I’ve rarely hit a delay on the first flight out.
  4. Use Multiple Flight Tracking Apps — Use your smartphone to keep track of gate changes and flight delays. Sign up for text notifications from your airline when you book your ticket. However,  I’ve often experienced long delays with the airlines’ services or changes that were never sent out. So I also use TripIt, WorldMate, and FlightAware. It means multiple notices, but it also means I don’t miss anything.
  5. Use Twitter as a Concierge Service — Most airlines have social media teams monitoring Twitter. Before you leave, find and follow your airline’s Twitter customer service account. “At naming” them in a Tweet (e.g., “@united what’s happening with UA 4286 MSY-ORD that it’s 1:45 hr delayed?”) usually gets a response in a couple of minutes. Following them allows you to exchange personal information such as record locator numbers via direct message (DM). It’s usually faster than queuing up for a frazzled gate agent and the results can be better.
  6. Carry On your Luggage — Unless you’re heading to the slopes for Christmas, everyone in your travel party should be able to fit into a carry-on sized bag. You can save $25/bag and increase the probability of having clean clothes at your destination. If you’re seating area 3 or higher, odds are there’s no overhead bin space for you. Let the agent gate-check the bag for you. You won’t have to pay a checked bag fee and it’s very unlikely that they’ll lose your bag – it’s only traveling a couple hundred feet from the jet bridge to the luggage hold.
  7. Spread Clothes Across All Bags — If you have to check your bags, split everyone’s clothes across all the bags. It’s rare for an airline to lose all of your checked bags.
  8. Buy Status for 1 Person — Airlines will sell you anything, including one-off access to the special security lines and early boarding calls normally earned by flying 25,000 miles. The airlines will tell you that everyone in your travel party needs to pony up for status. In practice though, if the lead adult’s boarding pass shows priority/premiere access, the overworked minimum-wage airport staffers guarding the status security lanes will let the family tag along. And at the gate, I’ve never seen a family split up across boarding groups.
  9. Know Your Geography — Knowing alternatives to your destination airport gives you more flexibility dealing with cancelled flights or missed connections. In New York, the LaGuardia to Newark pivot is easy, but others aren’t so obvious.  Everyone knows that Chicago has two airports – O’Hare and Midway.  But what about Milwaukee’s Mitchell Field 80 miles north?  If PHL is in trouble, how many folks think about Harrisburg or BWI?  Or Sacramento as an alternative to SFO?  I think about alternatives in two rings – within 60 miles – SNA and LGB for LAX; and then within 100-120 miles, which now picks up Palm Springs and San Diego for LAX.  Someone will drive a couple of hours to pick you up if it means getting you to Christmas dinner on time.
  10. But above all, be realistic  — It’s gonna be a zoo. Steel yourself; get your inner karma tuned for it. Pack a snack and a book, and practice deep cleansing breaths.
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