This is the busiest travel week of the year in the United States, and the weather forecast isn’t looking particularly helpful. For that matter, many airlines reported that yesterday was their busiest travel day ever.
Given that so many people are going to be traveling, especially folks who might not travel as often, I thought it’d be helpful to share my top tips for those traveling this week.
Track your flight
Nowadays there are plenty of apps and tools that will help you monitor your flight, even before you arrive at the airport.
The simplest? Just type the airline code and flight number in to Google. If you’re flying on Delta flight 712, for example, enter “DL712” and you should see the flight status.
Beyond that, many airline websites will also show you the status of your inbound aircraft. This can always change, but if the departures board says your flight is “on time” while the inbound aircraft is still en route from Dallas, there’s no reason to queue up for boarding.
There are two factors at work here. One, you don’t want to check a bag if you can avoid it. Even with sophisticated systems, checked bags are often lost or even just delayed. If you can keep to a carry-on, you have more options in case of schedule disruptions.
Beyond that, don’t overpack your carry-on! While most frequent travelers (myself included) are accustomed to taking “generously” sized suitcases onboard, airlines and airport staff seem to be enforcing bag sizes this week. I was at JFK yesterday and even at check-in the agents were asking to see and measure carry-ons.
You probably don’t need a third of the stuff you’re planning on bringing anyway, in my experience.
Allow extra time
When I lived in Seattle I’d generally leave for the airport about 90 minutes before my flight, if that. This is not a good idea during the crush of holiday travel.
Even if security is running smoothly, you’ll want to plan extra time for traffic, parking, check-in, etc. Particularly given that much of the country is slated to have bad weather this week, which will clog up roadways.
Plan for security
Clearing security this time of year is always exciting. You have the families trying to keep all their stuff together, the person who somehow in 2014 doesn’t know they can’t bring their full-size toothpaste, and the business travelers who are frustrated that no one else knows what is going on.
It’s also worth noting that through the TSA managed-inclusion program, you might have access to “Pre-Check” even if you’re not a frequent traveler. If so, you’ll have a special line, and you don’t need to remove your shoes or take anything out of your bag.
Pay attention to the signage, and follow the instructions — life will be better for everyone.
Be prepared for cancellations
Delays are going to happen this week, and cancellations are more than likely.
If something changes with your flight, you can do more than just stand in the queue to speak with the gate agent. While you’re waiting, call the airline customer service line and ask about options. They can often rebook you over the phone, or can at least have everything noted in the record so the gate agent can reissue your ticket.
Beyond that, if you have access to an airline lounge, the agents there are generally more helpful. You also have shorter lines, which can help with getting rebooked more quickly.
Invest in lounge access
On that note, daily and monthly lounge passes can be an exceptionally good value during the holidays.
American Airlines allows children to enter with their parents on even one-day Admirals Club passes, while the monthly pass allows two guests or immediately family as well, for example. Speaking of which, the Admirals Club 30 day pass is a heck of a deal at just $99. That’s less than the cost of two one-day passes.
Additionally, you may already have access to a lounge through your credit card, so it’s worth checking the benefits there.
Children’s play area at the LAS Centurion Lounge
Club lounges can be a refuge from a busy and hectic airport, so even paying for access can be well worth it this time of year.
Spread some cheer
Over 100 million Americans are going to be traveling this week. Everyone has somewhere they need to be, and nearly everyone is going to be stressed about it.
This is a difficult time of year to travel, so try to be extra nice. Bringing along chocolate for the crew and gate agents can’t hurt, and even a friendly smile can go a long way.
What are your top tips for busy travel days?