It seems that the snow and cold temperatures settled into the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere a bit earlier than last year. With the crush of Christmas/New Years travel starting in a few weeks, here are the TravelCommons’ top holiday travel tips to get you started early on your travel prep…
- Fly Non-Stop — It’s obvious because it’s the cardinal rule of air travel. Holiday travel stacks up problems — high passenger load factors combined with winter weather disruptions almost guarantees late arrivals and missed connections. Even if you’re connecting through Houston, an intermediate stop adds one more point of failure, one more opportunity for the airlines to screw up. Pay the extra $100 for a non-stop flight.
- Sign Up for TSA PreCheck — Gift yourself and spend the $85 on 5 years of time and hassle reduction.
- Skip the Tight Connection — If you can’t fly non-stop, step away from any connection that’s less than 60 minutes. Yes, we usually want to get to our destination in the shortest possible time, but accepting a connection of 1 hour or less…. Think about it – a 15-minute delay on your flight into a big hub like Chicago or Denver or Detroit (as good as on-time in the winter for most airlines) and you’re sprinting across terminals and concourses just to beat the closing door. A 1-hr connection is just asking for a stress attack and/or an overnight stay at the airport branch of the Bates Motel.
- 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 rarely hit a delay on the first flight out.
- 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.
- 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 notices that were never sent out. So I also use TripIt, FlightAware, and FlightStats. It means multiple notices, but it also means I don’t miss anything.
- Bring a Battery Pack — Whatever the size or form factor — slimline, lipstick, high-capacity brick — having that second or third charge readily available is critical to get last-minute gate change notifications and when you’re using electronic boarding passes. It saves you from stalking cleaning crews to find a live power outlet on your layover, or negotiating with your seatmate for possession of outlet between you. It’s cheap peace of mind.
- 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 4 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.
- Spread Clothes Across All Bags — If you need to check your bags — maybe you have to bring pre-wrapped gifts or a special bottle of wine for Christmas dinner — split everyone’s clothes across all the bags. It’s rare for an airline to lose all of your checked bags.
- 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 Allentown? 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.
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.