Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Air Travel

by Julie Cohn
Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Air Travel2

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Traveling by air can be stressful, particularly during the holidays.  If the weather delays were not enough, there are packed flights, crying babies, and lost luggage.  Here are a few tips for stress-free holiday air travel, to make flying a bit smoother and worry-free.

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Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Air Travel


  • Get to the airport at least an hour before you normally would.  More people are traveling, so security lines will be longer.  It is better to sit at the gate and wait than scramble to catch a flight (or completely miss it).  Even if you are TSA Pre-check approved, get to the airport earlier.
  • Even if you normally use your mobile phone to scan boarding passes, print an extra paper copy just in case. Additional travelers mean more computer glitches.
  • Use airline apps to keep travel reservations handy. I input all air flights (our own and visiting family) into the mobile version of FlightView to keep track of all flights and have found FlightView to be more accurate and up-to-date with flight delays and terminal gate changes than even the airlines themselves.  Case in point:  When my son came home for Thanksgiving, FlightView alerted me a full 10 minutes before the airline that his flight would be delayed.  The airline showed on-time on their mobile app and at the airport, yet FlightView stated the flight was delayed.  Sure enough, 10 minutes later the airline updated their system with the delay.

Holiday Travel2

  • Everyone (and their aunt and uncle) will be traveling with extra bags/packages during the holidays, so overhead bin space will be at a premium.  Make it easy on yourself and gate check your bag.  I know you want to keep your bag with you, but if you put a TSA approved lock on your bag, you don’t have to worry about someone breaking in (there is no time at the gate, it goes automatically in the luggage compartment).  Plus, you avoid luggage fees and don’t have to fight for overhead space.
  • Try to secure seats on your flight when you book, or at least 48 hours prior to departure.  Seat changes are not allowed within the last 24 hours before a flight, except by gate agents.
  • Pack a few snacks for the kids in case you get delayed.  Granola bars, trail mix, or peanut butter crackers are a quick source of fuel for hungry little travelers.
  • Pack an empty water bottle, then fill at a water fountain once you are past security. These BPA-free collapsible water bottles are perfect for traveling.
  • If you have an infant/toddler, pack a jar or two of baby food and extra diapers in case you get stranded.  Trust me, I have been there, done that.  Airport vending machines usually do not sell diapers.
  • Pack little gift bags of holiday chocolates for your gate agent and flight crew. They will appreciate the gesture and you might get a little extra-friendly service.
  • Please do not bring stinky food on board.  You should have plenty of time to eat at the gate.  People’s nerves are already frayed during the busy holiday season without your double-decker liverwurst and sauerkraut sandwich stinking up the flight.

Holiday Travel

If you pack gifts in your checked baggage, do not wrap them until you get to your destination.  If TSA wants to see what is in the package, they will unwrap/tear all your pretty handiwork.

  • Check local and destination weather, as well as the weather in connecting cities, to prepare for weather flight delays and packing.
  • If your flight is delayed and the reason is not weather-related (mechanical problem, crew problems etc.),  you have passenger rights and can ask to be re-booked on another carrier, if your airline cannot accommodate you within 1-2 hours of your original flight.  This is called “Rule 240”.  Note:  The original rule 240 was a requirement of the FAA before airline deregulation in the 1980s, but many airlines still have a similar rule based on their conditions of carriage.  Familiarize yourself with your airline’s rules or conditions before you travel.
  • If you need to re-book a flight and the line at the airport is two miles long, give the airlines a call or use their mobile app.  The following are domestic air toll-free numbers. Note:  Some airlines may charge a fee for re-booking over the phone (although most will waive it if the flight is delayed due to airline error. 
  • Worried about lost luggage? Delta Airlines now has an app so you can track your luggage using RFID technology. You can monitor your bags using the Fly Delta mobile app.  Not flying Delta Airlines?  Purchase luggage with built-in GPS, such as this Bluesmart luggage with GPS tracking and remote lock capability.
  • Pack a light sweater or jacket in case you get stuck in a cold airport.  Better yet, pack one of these compact pillow/blanket kits for each family member. 
  • Looking for that airline upgrade to first class?  Don’t hold your breath for one during the holidays, as full flights equal more upgrades.  However, you might be able to get one on Christmas day as fewer people travel that day. 
  • If you have mobility issues or are traveling with someone who does, call the airline in advance and arrange wheelchair service and/or electric shuttle service between connecting flights.  The airlines are happy to arrange a service to help you get around the airport. 
  • The #1 rule for stress-free travel is to be patient, respectful, and kind.  It’s all about attitude.  Don’t forget that there are (many) others in the same situation as you, trying to get home to see family and friends.  The more courteous and kind you are, the happier everyone will be.  It is the holidays after all–spread that goodwill!





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Shobha 12/18/2016 at 9:50 pm

i’m flying tomorrow so this is such a good checklist! forgot about adding something warm in the carry-ons – great idea as we are going from someplace that is not as cold and it’ll be good to have an extra layer on the plane as well as the airport after we land.

karendawkins 10/25/2017 at 10:29 pm

I’m not sure about that no seat changes thing. I was able to change seats at the airport 2 hours before travel.

Another tip, if you want to go paperless, take a screenshot of your QR code on your mobile phone. That way, if you can’t connect online, you still can scan your phone.

Great list!

Julie Cohn 10/25/2017 at 11:18 pm

Yes, seats can only be changed at the airport, but usually not by a customer within 24 hours prior to the flight–the seats are in airline control only at that time.


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