One More Top 10 List Of Holiday Travel Tips

Post-apocalyptic Santa Claus road warrior in a desolate landscape. He's in a tattered red and white suit, equipped with survival gear and goggles, holding a sack of travel-oriented gifts. The background shows a dystopian, barren terrain with a hint of a ruined cityscape. Holiday Travel Tips.
Santa Prepared for the Lines

Travel volume continues to grow, straining airline capacities and airport aisles — and that’s even before the Christmas travel crush hits. As you mentally prepare yourself to wade into the crowds, here are TravelCommons’ top holiday travel tips to keep you moving over the river and through the woods…

  1. Expand Your Fly-vs.-Drive Tipping Point — My normal tipping point is 350 miles; anything less and I’ll drive it, though driving in the winter isn’t all sweetness and light – especially across stretches of I-70 through Kansas or up the Jersey Turnpike. But if you fly, expect all the holiday airport logistics to add 3 hours to your in-flight time; 2 hours before departure to allow for long TSA lines, and at least an hour after arrival to de-plane, collect your luggage, and get a rental car or Uber. And that’s if there are no delays. Maybe this adds another 50-100 miles to your holiday tipping point.
  2. Use Multiple Navigation Apps — If you decide to drive, use more than one maps app to help you route around traffic jams from rush hour, construction, and accidents. I use both Waze and Google Maps because, even though they’re both owned by Google, they often give me different directions. Waze seems quicker to reroute around accidents and traffic jams, but that quickness can make it a bit twitchy — sending you wandering through sub-divisions to save a minute of drive time. I use Waze as my primary guidance app, but periodically sanity-check it against Google Maps.
  3. Do Your Research Before You Leave — You don’t have time to be clueless. Hit your airline or the TSA website so you know what’s allowed in your carry-on. Research the airports you’ll be using so you know how to get to your gates, where the good restaurants are, or better yet, if there’s a brewpub. Also, figure out the 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 Philadelphia is in trouble, how many folks think about Harrisburg or BWI?  Or Sacramento as an alternative to SFO?
  4. Fly Non-Stop — I know this is in every list, but that’s because it’s a foundational strategy – limit the points of failure in an overloaded system. Expecting airlines already operating at capacity to ferry even more passengers between airports operating at or over capacity during marginal weather – and to do this all on schedule? Suck it up, pay the extra $100 and have a fighting chance of getting to your family on time with your sanity and your luggage in hand.
  5. Skip the Tight Connection — If you can’t fly direct, step away from any connection that’s less than 60 minutes. 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 45-minute connection is just asking for a stress attack and/or an overnight stay at the airport branch of the Bates Motel.
  6. 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 to 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.
  7. Carry On your Luggage — As Steve Frick, a long-time TravelCommons listener says, “There are two kinds of luggage — carry-on and lost.” 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 in boarding group 5 or later, 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.
  8. Simplify your Coffee Order — When you hit the airport Starbucks for your pre-flight coffee, remember that this isn’t your neighborhood Starbucks run by friendly Starbucks-trained baristas. It’s run by Sodexo which doesn’t care quite as much about coffee training. And they’re not quite as efficient. And there are usually a lot of people behind you in line. Keep your order to 3 adjectives or less. Tall skim latte is good. The half-decaf 3-pump no-foam vente vanilla latte — not so much.
  9. Take the Phone Tree Path Less Traveled — If you have to call an airline or hotel and you don’t have a Platinum or Premiere status number to call, choose the unpopular path on the phone tree.  Travel companies don’t staff their customer service centers for peak loads – like the day when a Chicago blizzard cancels 400 flights.  It’s too expensive. So on those days, you’ll wait forever for an agent if you’ve followed the typical path down the phone tree.  Instead, swerve the crowd and choose the “Spanish” or “International Travel” option.  Once you connect with someone, they’ll take care of you.  They all work on the same systems in the same service centers.
  10. Bring a Battery Pack — It’s tough to travel today without a working mobile phone. It holds our boarding passes, gives us gate change and flight delay notifications, and routes us around traffic jams. A dead phone while flights are being canceled is more than a minor inconvenience. Having that second or third charge immediately available is critical when trying to route around a long delay. Check out the 2023 Traveler Gift Guide in show notes for episode #197 for the battery packs that I use.

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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