Around the World: Taking the Stress Out Of Holiday Travel
Travel during the holiday season rush is usually much more stressful than travel at any other time of the year. Lines are long, planes are crowded, extra baggage filled with gifts for friends and family must be handled. That puts a lot of pressure on the transportation system, and the full range of employees who keep the system running.
Flights are almost always overbooked, Equipment break downs can and do disrupt the travel flow. Those extra bags filled with gifts for family and friends can be misdirected or lost.
When you add to those problems the possibility of adverse weather conditions that can cause flight delays and cancellations, and encountering stressed out personnel who don’t respond politely when asked to resolve an issue, you can anticipate that you might be in for a rough ride.
There are steps you can take, however to avoid some of the major stress-producing problems and make the ride a little smoother.
First of all, try to limit your luggage to the carryon allowance. If you’ve got gifts to distribute, send then ahead of you by UPS or another shipping service. Less hassle for you at the airport, and less chance that your gifts will wind up in Boise rather than Boston. UPS is also likely to be less expensive, since airline charges for extra checked bags can be quite expensive. The first checked bag usually costs $25, but the price for a second checked bag jumps to $75 to $200.
Get to the airport well in advance of your departure time. With increased auto traffic dropping off and picking up passengers, you might want to take public transportation to the airport instead of a private car. That, of course, will depend how good the public transportation system is in your cities of departure and arrival. The public transportation option is excellent in San Francisco on the BART or on New York’s Train to the Plane. But, if you’re in LA, your private vehicle is still your best bet.
You can’t avoid long lines at check in, but you can cut the time it takes at the check in counter or kiosk if you have only carryon baggage. If you know your flight number and have your passport or other form of ID handy, your best bet for expeditious check in is the automatic kiosk. If you have difficulty figuring out the procedure, there’s usually an agent on hand to help out.
If you have a special need for a wheelchair or other assistance, make your request known when you book your flight. Before leaving home for the airport, call to verify and confirm your request for assistance. When you get to the airport, go directly to the airline’s special assistance counter. That usually helps to get you through the check in process more quickly.
Passengers in wheelchairs usually are taken to the front of the line at security check points. If a special needs passenger is given priority at the security point, and cuts in front of you, be gracious about it – even if your feet hurt.
Unless you’re a ‘priority’ or TSA pre-check passenger, you’ll have to endure the long lines at security check points. If standing in line raises your blood pressure, bring along some pleasant distraction – a book, movie or some other form of entertainment that transports you to a better place while you wait.
Make you experience at the security check point easier and quicker by readying your carryon things for inspection. Pack electronics and liquids where they can easily be extracted from your luggage. Leave at home anything that might require additional inspection. Pointy metallic objects clearly fit into that category, but less obvious are gift candles, for example, which are usually unpacked and rescanned, If you have any doubts about any items, call the airline to ask about them.
To protect yourself against the disappointment of missing an important event because of a flight delay or cancellation, prepare yourself with a list of other flights that depart for your destination at around the same time as the one you’re booked on. If it looks like a delay is likely, ask agents if they can book you on another flight – and hand them the list. Be polite, but make a strong argument that convinces them of your urgency.
If your flight is overbooked and the gate agents ask for volunteers to give up seats in exchange for vouchers for future travel, think more than twice about taking the offer. The airline will promise you a seat on the next available flight to your destination. But, ‘available flight’ doesn’t mean ‘next flight,’ and with systemic overbookings, you may wait a whole lot of time before there is an available seat. Being ‘bumped’ can be a good opportunity for travelers whose plans are a bit flexible – but not during the holiday rush.
Bring food from home. Lines at airport bistros are long, and prices are often higher. And the food selection is limited. Pack snacks that will sustain you through a possible delay and the duration of your flight.
If you require medication, make sure it’s handy in your carryon.
And, entertainment is essential. A good book, a downloaded movie, computer games, puzzles and any other of your favorite portable pastimes will help to quell the stress of holiday travel.